The power of local action in a crisis: a COVID-19 case study on The Ballarat Foundation

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In 2020, the COVID19 pandemic and public health response that included lockdowns led to an economic crisis that has played out throughout our communities.

In the Victorian town of Ballarat, it was no different. The economic downturn meant job losses and financial hardship for many in the community. While the government provided significant support, many people, like international students or refugees, simply did not qualify and ‘fell through the cracks’ while others, including families, needed more immediate help than government support provided.

The rapidly changing needs of the community in early 2020 called for agility and community know-how, and Ballarat Foundation had both.

The Ballarat Foundation is a catalyst for positive community change. The Foundation’s core purpose is to break cycles of disadvantage, focusing on School Readiness, Youth Success, Food and Housing Security as its main impact areas to enable philanthropic solutions to social problems.

As the pandemic unfolded, the Ballarat Foundation saw a need to act and responded in typical community foundation fashion: promptly, pragmatically, and targeting those most in need, using their deep local knowledge and networks. In the process, it adapted to a new way of working, turning from funding partner to delivering services.

From May to December 2020, the Foundation in partnership with its donors and Ballarat Community Health, City of Ballarat, and the Salvation Army provided on average 230 families with food parcels each fortnight.

Having surveyed local welfare agencies to establish the need for this a service, the Foundation used its local networks to target people in most urgent need of support. Families were identified through school welfare teams, individuals through universities, and groups through agencies. Using intermediaries to identify those with the greatest need helped guard the privacy of recipients to some degree, a sensitive approach that also supported mental well-being of those in need.

The food deliveries were designed to provide immediate relief to people in the wake of job losses and impacts of restrictions on movement and activity, ensuring families and community groups overlooked by government relief programs had access to nutritious food and staples.

To get the food parcels out quickly and reliably, Ballarat Foundation turned to their existing volunteer base for support. Volunteers who were previously driving mentors for the foundation’s TAC L2P program were now in charge of packaging the food parcels and delivering them to schools. The cars that could not be used for driving lessons during lockdown were reassigned as delivery vehicles.

This growing need for food relief was not confined to Ballarat itself. Through its community links, the Foundation was aware that the need for food relief was also growing in outlying areas that would not normally fall within their geographic catchment. Without hesitation, they extended their reach to include those locations. The priority was to get food to those who needed it most – in the face of that basic human need, other issues were secondary or academic.

Throughout their 2020 food relief program, Ballarat Foundation simply applied the principles at the core of the community foundation model: they listened to their community; they partnered and collaborated for greater impact; and they adapted their approach to suit emerging needs. No longer were they just grant makers for external service providers; they were now the ‘doers’.

While the initiative ended in December 2020 after lockdowns had eased, the project has created enduring benefits for the Foundation and its community programs.

“Money was tight right across our community at the time and fundraising was really challenging”, recalls Ballarat Foundation CEO Andrew Eales. “But with our food parcel deliveries, the community saw first-hand that we rolled up our sleeves and just got on with doing something essential and practical to help. It gave them confidence that supporting our Feed Ballarat appeal would make a real difference to someone in need. We have found new donors, and we are building new partnerships from the relationships forged in last year’s crisis, for example with some of the schools where we delivered food parcels.”

As the pandemic is continuing, Ballarat Foundation is supporting school-based breakfast programs this year. Through its 2021 community grants program, the Foundation has recently distributed around $100,000 to some 20 projects, balancing initiatives to reduce the short-term impacts of the pandemic with investments in longer term community capacity.

“The most important thing is that we remain flexible and continue to listen to our community. As the impacts of the pandemic change over time and are different for different groups, we need to review and consider our approach to donors and granting on an on-going basis.”

Agility and genuine understanding of local needs: it’s what makes community foundations so effective at responding to emergencies, and ideal leaders for local community development at any time.

About the Ballarat Foundation

The Ballarat Foundation’s history in Ballarat goes back more than 35 years. This makes it one of Australia’s five longest established community foundations.

The Foundation has provided more than $2.6 million in grants to its local community over the past decade. It stewards more than $4 million in assets under management to support its ongoing community grant programs.
To find out how you can support the Foundation’s work, visit The Ballarat Foundation.

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