Eleven nonprofits in the county will divide $1.25 million in no-strings- attached grants under Galveston County’s plan to allocate $66 million in COVID relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Leaders of the 11 grantees said they were pleasantly surprised by the grants, which were awarded with little forewarning. The groups, which are in line for grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000, said the money would be used to advance and improve important programs.
“I’m sort of in shock right now,” said Angelica Hanley, executive director of M.I. Lewis Social Services in Dickinson, who called the grant from the county “groundbreaking.”
The social service center, which received a $100,000 grant, provides emergency financial assistance and runs a food pantry for people in and around the Dickinson Independent School District. The demand for help from local residents has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and before the news of the county-directed grant came, the organization had almost exhausted its funds, she said.
“This funding is going to help a lot of people in our community,” she said.
County commissioners approved the grants Monday in a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Ken Clark was absent from the meeting.
The county received $66 million through the American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress approved in March. But only this week did commissioners decide how to portion out the money.
Among other things, the county’s plan included $26 million for water infrastructure projects, $16 million put aside for continued response to COVID-19 and $1.8 million for the costs of sending sheriff and constable deputies to work on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I’m glad we were able to find a way to support these great community organizations that provide so much assistance and support to the residents of Galveston County,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in a statement.
The nonprofits were chosen because they had existing relationships with the county, officials said.
There was no application process for nonprofits to seek out a portion of the funding, officials said.
The grant money is unrestricted, meaning the groups can use it as they see fit, said Tyler Drummond, the chief of staff for Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. There’s no strict reporting requirements either. But Drummond expected the groups would keep commissioners apprised of how they spend the money, he said.
The county plans to deliver checks to the groups by Oct. 18.
Leaders of the groups that will receive grants were still trying to process the news.
The Galveston County Food Bank received the single largest grant, for $250,000.
It will help the organization pay for maintenance and repair costs, particularly for its mobile distribution efforts, food bank president Donnie VanAckeren said.
“It’s an answered prayer,” VanAckeren said. “Prices are going up for truck costs and breakdowns. This is just truly a blessing.”
A whiteboard in VanAckeren’s office lists things the food bank hadn’t been able to afford, including new pallet jacks and repairing air conditioners, he said.
The grant allows the food bank to cover operating expenses without using money specifically donated for food costs, VanAckeren said.
Other groups also had spending opportunities on their minds.
“This is money that we can really use to do good in the community,” said Holly McDonald, the community relations and development manager for the Salvation Army of Galveston County.
The Salvation Army is raising money to help convert its building on 51st Street in Galveston, which once held a thrift store, into a new volunteer center, McDonald said. The center could allow more outreach work on the island, she said.
“It can help us do more service in the community,” McDonald said. “It would allow us to multiply our efforts in the community and do street outreach and all kinds of things we wanted to do but didn’t have the funding to cover it.
McDonald called grants and gifts of the size the county is giving very rare.
“It’s a miracle,” she said.