Neilsen Foundation Taps United Spinal for COVID Relief

During the devastating hurricane season of 2017, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation partnered with United Spinal Association to get relief to those in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and other gulf states who desperately needed it. United Spinal used its extensive grassroots network to provide grants to roughly 300 individuals, and provided funds to affected chapters so they could support their local SCI/D communities. The program was so successful that when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Neilsen Foundation knew just where to turn.

“We needed to find a way to directly help the community quickly and effectively,” says Kym Eisner, executive director of the Neilsen Foundation. “Our partnership with United Spinal ensures that these vital resources get to where they’re needed most. This organization is among the best-positioned to respond to the urgent needs that the pandemic has created because of its ability to reach individuals throughout the country. We hope that our emergency relief funding can continue to allow United Spinal to adapt and respond quickly to help the SCI community in these unprecedented times.”

In order to make sure Neilsen’s funding reached as many people as possible, United Spinal quickly developed ways to get the money to those most in need. One of the ways provides direct grants of $500 to affected individuals. Some 1,200 people completed a simple application process that asked how COVID-19 had impacted their situation. Needs ranged from paying caregivers and bills to buying groceries, medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

Despite only hearing about the grant in early April, United Spinal was able to start sending payments just a couple of weeks later. As of writing, United Spinal had already approved more than 600 recipients. Because of the overwhelming response, grant applications have already closed, but Abby Ross, chief operating officer for United Spinal Association, says that if the organization receives more funding from other partners, it may be able to fund more applicants.

United Spinal has also provided grants directly to 33 of its chapters and 17 of its support groups so they can develop and fund their own programs. Chapter plans include: buying Zoom memberships to provide peer-support online; developing a rural peer-support program; providing grocery and meal-delivery gift cards; hiring staff to deliver supplies and groceries to quarantined members; purchasing and delivering PPE to members; helping members with purchasing technology and internet connections to allow them to stay connected online, and more. “Chapters are being really creative to meet the needs of their members,” says Ross.

In addition, United Spinal created a fund for “extraordinary cases” where an individual grant needed to exceed $500, as well as a budget to send PPE supplies directly to chapters. United Spinal distributed 10,000 KN-95 masks to chapters and individuals that might not have been able to obtain them otherwise.

With how quickly the pandemic has changed everything, organizations are having to rapidly adapt and expand their traditional offering to serve their members in this new world. Ross says that when Neilsen contacted United Spinal, “their concern was so genuine, just trying to make sure people had the resources they needed. This grant was certainly outside their regular scope of operations, so we can’t applaud their responsiveness enough.”

— Seth McBride

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