Since the Observer’s founding in 2012, we have published several columns about Plant City’s voluntary organizations, our non-profit sector and the great contributions they make to our quality of life.
They are all organized for a specific purpose or to serve a defined clientele. They form one of the aspects of American society, which has long made our nation unique. When Americans see a need, they unite and figure out how to best meet it.
But what do non-profit organizations do in these abnormal times, when we are confronted with a new virus, which limits our mobility, our activity, our freedom and even our lives?
Three such organizations to which I belong have found new ways to answer that question. These are the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA which serves families and individuals from its Plant City branch, the Sunshine State Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) which partners with local banks to make SBA-backed loans to small businesses from its offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami, and the largest, most active service club in Plant City: Noon Rotary.
Our Plant City branch of the YMCA was closed in the beginning of March along with nearly 30 other Tampa Metro Y branches because of the coronavirus pandemic. When all area day care centers closed with the pandemic, our Ys created and implemented a care program for the children of hospital employees and first responders. Our Ys carried out a limited reopening this week, but with the Relief Care program still needed they flexed yet again to maintain Relief Care while offering more regular programming.
Since the Y members would no longer be able to use our Ys to get the benefits of their memberships, they were all given the option of taking a refund or donating their membership fees to help fund the new program. Some took the refund and some made the donation. These donations, although they were greatly appreciated, have not been enough to fund the program. The Metro Y has made up the difference by taking money from other parts of its budget.
During the pandemic, SEDCO has continued its statewide programs to service existing loans and to make new ones, but when the economy was shut down by the pandemic, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help small businesses reduce or eliminate the need to lay off their employees. In addition to their existing programs, EDCs like SEDCO were asked to help manage PPP.
This has put considerable stress on the dozen staff SEDCO employs locally and statewide. SEDCO has written 53 PPP loans, totaling over $3 million and keeping over 500 people employed. This has taken the SEDCO budget from break-even status to nearly $50,000 in the red, and SEDCO will take money from other parts of its budget to defray the deficit.
The 90-plus members of our Plant City Noon Rotary Club have also been shut down by the pandemic since the beginning of February, but they have found a new way to address Rotary’s long-time mission of “Service above Self.” Many members have agreed to donate the money they would have spent on their meals at meetings to help our United Food Bank of Plant City meet the large increase in need it has experienced to feed our fellow Plant Citians.
In each case, a local non-profit organized and funded for one purpose rapidly pivoted with the start of the pandemic to meet another purpose and need, and found most of the funding internally to meet the new need. Organizations that can do these things are called “agile.” A nation with many organizations in a robust voluntary sector that can do them is called “exceptional.”