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United Way starts online volunteering platform to help struggling San Antonio nonprofits during coronavirus pandemic

Each year, San Antonio and Bexar County are home to hundreds of nonprofit organizations, groups big and small, that reach out to help the community in a myriad of ways.

Like businesses, those groups have been hit hard by the coronvirus pandemic, as nonprofit revenues steeply decline and the army of volunteers who normally show up to help get the work done stay home to shelter-in-place.

A new online tool created by United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County aims to fill that void, chiefly by providing opportunities for those who want to volunteer, either remotely or in a safe, socially distant manner.

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The website, https://saunited4good.org/ gathers such volunteer opportunities in one place. It also provides nonprofits an outlet to “tell their stories” and document how the pandemic — in lost dollars and volunteer hours — is affecting how they do their work.

The pandemic has upended the local nonprofit world, including the cancellation of crucial fundraisers, said Chris Martin, president and CEO of United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County.

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“People still want to help, but in this COVID-19 era, they’re just not sure how or where to go to find opportunities,” he said. “This new website is a rallying place for nonprofits to be able engage volunteers in important and meaningful ways.”

The product of a Cincinnati-based nonprofit technology provider, the new “virtual volunteering” platform will help nonprofits respond quickly to current needs and will better position them for a faster recovery in the aftermath, Martin said.

One example on the site is the American Red Cross Serving Greater San Antonio, which describes a range of online volunteer opportunities, from handling paperwork related to blood donations, becoming a disaster casework volunteer and doing data entry of government information.

The nonprofit also needs “social media ambassadors,” as well as those who can collect and create “impact stories” from Red Cross volunteers, input data on volunteering and help in a collaborative mapping project on humanitarian efforts around the globe.

The volunteer spots are open to those with differing levels of computer skills, even minimal ones. Online training is provided.

“Volunteers are the heart of the American Red Cross,” said Executive Director Michael Vela. “This initiative will help us continue to provide vital services to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.”

Sandra Morales, head of House of Neighborly Service, said her nonprofit, which right now is focusing most heavily on its food delivery service to the elderly, needs in-person volunteers for its work.

“We need people who can help in our curbside meal pickups and also do actual deliveries,” she said. “We’ve gone from delivering 35 meals a day to 75, and I expect to hit 100 soon.”

The nonprofit, which also provides child development and family support services, has seen a steep drop in revenue, she said.

“We’ve lost at least $200,000 in our funding, and it’s probably going to be a lot more,” Morales said.

In March, the San Antonio Area Foundation and the United Way jointly launched the COVID-19 Response Fund, which, along with gifts from other donors, is now over $5 million. More than 100 nonprofits have since received grants.

And the Big Give SA, normally a once-a-year, 24-hour online giving drive, has become the Big Give Emergency Relief, launched by the Nonprofit Council. People can donate directly to one of 500 nonprofits in San Antonio and the surrounding counties.

But even with these two major funding efforts, many groups still need help. The new platform includes nonprofits that don’t belong to the United Way partnership network, Martin said

After the virus-related restrictions subside, he said, the new site will evolve into an ongoing, communitywide guide to volunteer engagement.

Martin noted that the decline in nonprofit revenue comes right as needs in the community increase because of the virus, from food distribution for impoverished families to heightened services required for housebound people, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

The new site keeps safety top of mind, he said, both for volunteers and those they help. Safe volunteering opportunities include such tasks as drivers for food delivery, writing notes of encouragement to Boys & Girls Club kids or sharing a photo or video with essential workers.

“One bright spot in these otherwise dreary times is the civic-mindedness permeating our community,” said Brandyn Moore-Rodriguez, vice president of community relations and volunteer initiatives for United Way.

“We understand that for many, these times may be uncertain and scary,” she said. “But in spite of those feelings, many volunteers have still been moved to ask, ‘How can I help?’”

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