By Kenzie Ferguson

Two women stand masked with goods to deliver to community members
Volunteers gather goods to deliver in the community

Last January, my team and I spent several days mapping out our funding priorities for 2020. We had plans for big events, lofty aspirations for impact on specific oral health issues and optimism for the year ahead. Needless to say, the emergence of COVID-19 a short month and a half later and the associated economic crisis changed everything. Yet, I am an optimist and love the opportunity to adapt my thinking. There are ways we were able to accelerate and double-down on how we work with our non-profit partners. In the spirit of optimism, I wanted to take a moment to look back on 2020 and highlight the positives in the dark storm of 2020.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation was one of the first corporate philanthropies to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. In March, we mobilized to distribute $5 million in grants to our non-profit partners across our enterprise, quickly followed by an additional $6 million in April. We also carved out significant funding for food banks across our enterprise, totaling $3.5 million.

Overall, in 2020, we gave more than $15 million in unrestricted COVID-19 relief funding. This required a massive overhaul of our systems and breakneck speed from our team. To put this into perspective, we would take close to seven months to complete a grant process—in early 2020, we turned around grants in six weeks. I am truly proud of the dedication and determination of my staff. Still, the flexibility and adaptability we displayed pale compared to what some of our partners were doing on-the-ground. I would need to write a book to detail them all, so allow me to share just a few highlights from the many incredible efforts I’ve seen this year.

Flexibility became a way of life

Food banks, faced with increased demand and supply chain complications, completely upended their business-as-usual models. They had to find new partners, new distribution methods and make these changes with bare bones staff and no volunteers in the pandemic’s early days. 

Health centers reassigned dental staff to help with COVID-19 testing and triage of patients while dental clinics were shut down. They had to stock up on PPE and send nonessential staff home. But they managed to find ways to deliver care – virtually and in person.

Nonprofits of all types began responding to new needs regardless of their mission. Many began organizing deliveries of food to seniors and homebound individuals in their communities.

Innovation is accelerated

As COVID-19 has altered how we interact with one another, the race to find new ways to offer services has kicked into high gear. Our partners are using our funds to advance initiatives such as telehealth and teledentistry. In fact, in rural Mississippi, Manna Ministry now has one of the more sophisticated telemedicine setups available. To protect providers, many of whom are semi-retired and in their 60s, Manna invested in a diagnostic system that allows the doctor to see blood pressure, heart rate, and a host of other vital signs in real time from another room. This isn’t just a video chat or phone call to check in; this is a full exam being conducted from a safe distance for all. And Manna caters to people who have no other options and may not have reliable internet or cellular service in their homes.

Compassion wins

Most importantly, I have been amazed by the way communities have come together during this challenging year. While food banks have experienced unprecedented need, we have heard that their communities have rallied around them like never before.

Our employees have eagerly embraced virtual volunteer and donation opportunities that help vulnerable populations, raising thousands of dollars for important causes. Employees have donated more than $240,000 in 2020, which is an increase of 63% from 2019. Including company matching, we have made collective donations of more than $500,000 to 580 causes.

2020 has been challenging, but it unleashed true compassion for one another that I have not seen before. Here’s to the possibilities that lie ahead in the new year!