'This has dwarfed anything else we've seen': Nonprofits adapt to soaring need, fewer volunteers and a fundraising slump
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Austin, the Central Texas Food Bank has seen a tenfold increase in food costs.
The local nonprofit used to spend about $20,000 a week on food. But most of its inventory came from donations and food recovery partnerships with grocery stores, wholesalers and local farmers. Now it's spending $200,000 a week because of increased need from the public and fewer recovery opportunities, as places like HEB and Sam's Club try to keep their own shelves stocked.
The food bank serves 21 counties and distributed 52 million pounds of food in 2019. It has responded to natural disasters and fed government employees during previous shutdowns. "This has dwarfed anything else we've seen," Chief Development Officer Mark Jackson said.
(Central Texas Food Bank)
In addition to increased demand for services driving up operating costs, many local nonprofits are also facing disrupted supply chains, volunteer hiatuses and financial uncertainty. Their most acute need is emergency funding, according to a recent survey conducted by Mission Capital. Nearly half of the 458 responding organizations reported increased demand for their services. At the same time, 80% are struggling to reach their clients because of pandemic-related challenges; nearly half have instituted hiring freezes, furloughs or layoffs; and 65% said they have canceled fundraising events.
Austin Pets Alive is facing this perfect storm of challenges. Since the pandemic began, thousands of residents have fostered or adopted pets, which has been a huge relief, Public Relations and Events Manager Katera Berent said. But the organization has also taken in more animals, as rescues and shelters in rural areas have shut down in response to the pandemic. "That has been a very big change for us," she added.
Meanwhile, APA's normally robust volunteer force—around 2,000 people strong—is largely out of commission with the shelter closed to the public and social distancing recommendations still in effect. Fundraising is also down, which Berent attributes in part to rising unemployment. Its other revenue streams—a couple of thrift stores, which remain closed, and in-person events—have also dried up. "We're a bit nervous," she said.
Foundation Communities, an affordable housing developer, is in the same boat. The nonprofit has suspended its in-person volunteer programs, which provide tenants with services such as tutoring and tax preparation assistance. "We're challenged because most of our work is shoulder-to-shoulder," Executive Director Walter Moreau said.
The organization's annual fundraiser is scheduled for October, which is a concern, as is the economic slump that has accompanied the pandemic. "We've seen some foundations kind of pull back on giving because of uncertainty," he said. "Their endowments may have declined in the market, so they don't have as much money to give."
In response, nonprofits have been forced to adapt. Megan Ambrose—the vice president of marketing and events for Notley Ventures, an Austin-based organization that provides resources and funding to nonprofits and social enterprises—pointed to Code2College as an example. The local organization works to support minority and low-income high school students in STEM fields and has received funding from Notley's Philanthropitch initiative. In response to the pandemic, Code2College's staff has created an online curriculum and is working to develop a virtual alternative for summer internships.
"That's sort of the most inspiring part of the pandemic—is how well the nonprofits and social impact community are adapting and innovating," Ambrose said, while adding that these organizations still need support to survive. "It's a really tough time."
Courtney Manuel is the executive director of I Live Here I Give Here, which works to encourage philanthropy through events such as Amplify Austin. She worries that the worst may still be ahead for nonprofits, as loans such as the Paycheck Protection Program run out and the full economic fall-out of this pandemic becomes clear.
"The community turns to the nonprofit community to support them when times are really dire," she said. "So if we're not supporting our nonprofits right now so that they exist when we're on the other side of this thing, we're not going to have the infrastructure that we need to respond as things continue to unfold."
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With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."