To say that we are living in strange times right now would be, at best, an understatement.

Schools closed. Businesses closed. Sporting and entertainment events canceled. The “new norm” is far from, well, normal. And yet, in a time in which we as human beings are actively being encouraged to isolate from one another, I can honestly say I have never felt closer to my fellow man.

Over the last new weeks, the Freeport Community Foundation has been working behind the scenes with its fellow members of the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations (AICF) on developing a method by which our respective community foundations can help the most vulnerable of Illinois residents through these uncharted waters.

The AICF, in collaboration with United Way of Illinois and the office of Gov. JB Pritzker, launched the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund (ICRF). Since it was first announced during the governor’s daily press briefing on March 26, the ICRF has raising more than $28 million from nearly 2,000 donors across the state. And, late last week, the Freeport Community Foundation confirmed that $100,000 in ICRF funding was awarded to the FCF for distribution to northwest Illinois nonprofits.

Together with the United Way of Northwest Illinois, we have launched the NWIL COVID-19 Response Fund (NWILCRF). Additionally, the Freeport Community Foundation will match, dollar for dollar, the $100,000 awarded by the ICRF, enabling our two agencies to award $200,000 in emergency needs grants to agencies serving our most vulnerable neighbors throughout Stephenson, Jo Daviess and Carroll counties.

The FCF/UWNWIL partnership is currently accepting grant applications online via the FCF’s website at www.freeportcommunityfoundation.org and will continue to do so until 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 15. And yes, we realize this is an extremely short window of time, but our collaboration, as well as ICRF leadership, wishes to get these funds into circulation as quickly as possible.

The grant application itself is fairly brief and only COVID-19 related requests will be considered. ONLY 501(c)3 nonprofits in good standing and meeting all basic grant requirements (as outlined within the application) are eligible to apply. To be clear, these funds are for agency support, NOT individual requests and support. Additionally, the grants process prioritizes programs and agencies swiftly deploying resources to NWIL residents in need of 1) emergency food and basic supplies, 2) interim housing and shelter, 3) primary health care services, 4) utility and financial assistance, 5) supports for children and other vulnerable populations and 6) nonprofit safety and operations assistance.

Grant applications will be reviewed by a special ad hoc committee of FCF and UWNWIL representatives, with the respective organizational boards of directors giving the final approval prior to fund distribution. Recipients will be notified early in the week of April 20, with all funds distributed via FCF and UWNWIL channels by Friday, April 24.

The Freeport Community Foundation is honored and humbled to be one of just 30 statewide organizations to receive part of the $5.5 million in Illinois COVID-19 Response Funding, distributed in allotments from $25,000 to $250,000. Our organization, and particularly our staff, is equally honored and humbled to be working alongside our peers at the United Way of Northwest Illinois. Our partnership has been, for those of us working together on this, a much-needed bright spot during these dark days.

Working together is, quite honestly, the only way we are, as a society, going to survive this crisis. The COVID-19 virus does not recognize borders or boundaries. It knows nothing of race, gender, religious affiliation or political party allegiances. It could care less if one is young or old, wealthy or at-risk. To it, we are all at-risk. But working together, together we will thrive.

Be safe. Be kind. Wash your hands.

Michelle DeHaven is executive director of the Freeport Community Foundation. Email: fcfdirector@freeportcommunityfoundation.org.