New Fund Responds to COVID-19

A short time after the Franciscan Health Foundation’s establishment of its Community Health and Wellness Fund, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The vulnerabilities the fund was created to target were worsened by the loss of jobs, closing of schools and healthcare challenges that ensued.

Kate Hill-Johnson, administrative director of Community Health Improvement for Franciscan Health, said the coronavirus became an immediate focus. The first project was to counter the rising family stress and resulting child abuse during the pandemic. “We put together 1,000 family kits in April that we sent out to particularly vulnerable community members.”

Those kits included phone numbers and resources, COVID-19 educational materials and supplies for children to continue informal learning at home. About two months later, 3,000 more kits went out to help families get through the summer, helping kids stay engaged and helping adults understand stress and crisis and how to cope within their homes, Hill-Johnson said.

The next project reached out to the Burmese refugee community in Indianapolis. Members of the community experienced job loss and discrimination during the pandemic. The fund provided short-term assistance with food and hygiene supplies until Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana was able to step in.

Hill-Johnson said the fund has also helped schools and students during back-to-school season. Schools had to shut off water fountains to prevent virus spread but didn’t have money for water bottles for the students. “We provided water bottles for a lot of kids. We also helped with things like hand sanitizers and cleaners to help get schools started,” she said.

In Lake County, the fund was used to purchase “Stop the Bleed” kits, which include supplies for someone with a minimal amount of training to stop a major bleed. The kits are used by schools and social service agencies. Medication take-back boxes were funded in Hammond, Munster and Dyer.

In the future, the Community Health and Wellness Fund has a firm target on issues that impact community health, including the environment, education and food insecurity, which impacts up to 19 percent of children in areas of Indiana and south suburban Chicago. As the pandemic eases, donations to the Community Health and Wellness Fund will continue to assist the most vulnerable populations in the communities.

“COVID kind of interrupted the original plan for the fund, but I’m grateful that we had the resources to be able to support families when they needed it the most,” Hill-Johnson said.