Every Tuesday, they wait by a worn door at the Fray Garces Colombian Hall in Glendale, a congregation of regulars and newcomers, many arriving with abandoned grocery carts overflowing with their sole possessions.


For many homeless and low-income people, nonprofit organizations such as Grateful Hearts Free Meals offer not only food, clothing and hygiene products, but also a respite from unpredictable lives. Lately, however, even these safe havens are facing tough times with the onset of COVID-19. Olivia Templeton, Grateful Hearts executive director, says the number of volunteers and visitors has dropped substantially since the outbreak.


“A lot of my volunteers were older and didn’t want to get exposed, while the [people needing help] assumed we were closed,” she says. “We’ve lost about half of our volunteers and regular visitors.”


According to Arizona’s COVID-19 Nonprofit Pulse Poll compiled by the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, as of June, the reported total loss of nonprofits’ revenue was $53 million with 2,877 reported total organization layoffs and furloughs, and 36,477 reported total number of loss of volunteers.


“A lot of people don’t often consider how lives are touched by nonprofits. When we stop and think, many hospitals and schools are nonprofits,” says Kristen Merrifield, Alliance CEO. “Nonprofits are always there and will continue to be. But without support, they can’t be readily available to serve at the level needed if we don’t fund them property.” 


Pamela Keefe, vice president and nonprofit relationship manager for NB|AZ, also knows the toll an economic plummet can have on a community. More than 3,000 nonprofit organizations are NB|AZ’s clients.

“Nonprofits are the engine of our community,” says Keefe, a veteran banker with more than 30 years of experience. “If we didn’t have nonprofit organizations, we would feel it.”

Volunteers sort food donations at the United Food Bank in Mesa. The East Valley-based nonprofit distributes nearly 24 million pounds of food to individuals and agencies in need per year.


No one knows this better than the staff and volunteers at United Food Bank, an East Valley-based nonprofit that, in response to the pandemic, began a drive-thru food distribution program in March. In an article for The Arizona Republic, Tyson Nansel, United Food Bank director of external affairs, said the first distribution drew about 550 families. By mid-April, that number rose to 2,200.


“That’s about 6,000 to 7,000 individuals,” he said. “We’re seeing families and people saying they’ve lost their jobs and that they’re grateful for this food they’re getting.”


According to Merrifield, the quickest, simplest and most impactful way Arizonans can help nonprofits provide essential supplies to the community is through monetary donations. In fact, a record-breaking $6.1 million was raised in April for Arizona Gives Day, the annual day of online giving. Formed in 2013 by the Alliance and Arizona Grantmakers Forum, this is the first time in which donations surpassed $3.6 million.


“We are stunned by the astonishing response, especially when hundreds of thousands of people in our state aren’t working because of the pandemic,” Merrifield says. “To say we’re grateful doesn’t even begin to express how we feel about the people of our state. Truly remarkable.”




Story: Julia De Simone

Photos: Mark Lipczynski