Responding to COVID-19 in... Hartsville, South Carolina
This post continues a series highlighting the responses of SECF members to the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities. We will use this series to highlight partnerships, coalitions and innovative examples of giving that help those affected by this crisis. If you are involved in a program you would like to see highlighted here, contact David Miller, director of marketing and communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even though small towns are often just as vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, they also lack many of the tools and resources available in larger communities to help with response, relief and recovery.
Place-based philanthropy has a vital role to play in situations like these. One example comes from Hartsville, South Carolina, where the Byerly Foundation has emerged as a key player in the community’s response.
Hartsville, a city with a population of less than 8,000 in the northeast corner of the state, hasn’t been among a number of rural communities in the region to emerge as “hot spots” for the pandemic. However, it is still vulnerable to the considerable effects of school and business closures.
“All of us have been responding the various issues of the pandemic since the beginning of March. Hartsville, like everywhere else, ended up with more questions about what might be happening than specific issues that could be attacked,” said Richard Puffer, the Byerly Foundation’s executive director. “It became apparent to our city officials very early that this pandemic was going to have impacts that were never anticipated.”
Puffer and the foundation’s Board were eager to support the community it has called home since it was established in the 1990s. Thankfully, they were able to draw plenty of ideas and inspiration from the well-connected network of other South Carolina grantmakers responding to the pandemic.
“About two weeks into the pandemic I joined one of the Zoom calls being hosted by the South Carolina Grantmakers Network and Together SC to hear how other groups were using their capacity to help with solutions,” Puffer said. “That first meeting gave a template for assisting with communication and collaboration.”
The foundation quickly decided to cancel its normal grant cycle, switching to a rolling approval process. It also embraced videoconferencing and began holding biweekly calls that have included public officials, law enforcement, health care leaders, nonprofit agencies, school administrators and more.
“We have the status in the community to help bring people together and the Byerly board is using the convening strategy as a major way of being involved at this time,” Puffer said. “It is, right now, more important than money.”
One area the Byerly Foundation has focused on is supporting Hartsville’s small business community. Business leaders have joined the biweekly video calls and the foundation recently made a $150,000 grant to the All-America City Comeback Business 2020 Campaign, which provides short-term relief to brick-and-mortar businesses in the city.
“We have a strong Main Street downtown and have been getting stronger – until this hit,” Puffer said. “The business recovery program is an attempt to figure out how we are going to save our city and what makes our city special.”
The foundation’s long history of partnerships with public officials and the business community helped make the program possible.
“One night the city manager sent me an article about how the City of Columbia had put together a fund for it businesses,” Puffer said. “Our city did not have the cash for that, but they saw how such a fund might help recover. We shared that article among the Byerly board and by the April meeting, the city had a request for a recovery fund that would provide Hartsville based brick-and-mortar businesses with forgivable grants or loans.”
The program is also supported by the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, which the foundation worked with to help Hartsville win recognition from the National Civic League in 2016 as an All-America City – a point of pride for the community and the namesake of the new recovery fund.
“For most of Hartsville’s history there has been a can-do culture that has made people work to make this a tremendous community for all its residents,” Puffer said. “At the center of our growth spirit has been the belief that our small cities will grow best with a strong core of businesses that are there year after year, decade after decade.”