Boys & Girls Club Helped Raise Funds for COVID-19 Relief
Standing Up for Community
Boys & Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson (c) with Dr. Sarah Gee,
executive vice-president and chief operating Officer (l) and
Laura Ford-Harris, chief development officer
“They said, ‘Let’s put together a committee,’” Johnson said. “’Let the committee decide where those funds are going to go. We’ll come up with the process.’ And I
started getting phone calls from board members of other non-profits because people were really trying to get those resources. It felt good where it landed. I’ve never
heard of an organization that within a week and a half raised that kind of money and then turn right back around and put every dollar back in the streets. We did that
and I’m proud. It wasn’t flawless. But it was quick. It was impactful. And I was fortunate that the donors in this community stepped up to make that happen.”

The funds were used in several different ways. The first was to pay bills that were threatening the wellbeing of families and to make sure they would have a place to
shelter in place.

“We funded 39 different organizations, from churches to colleges and universities helping college students,” Johnson said. “We paid the bills of over 200 families.
We worked with groups like the Greater Madison Resource Center and asked them to screen families and submit those bills directly to us and we paid for them. In
some cases, we paid the bills for rent of families in need and utilities to car notes. A couple of weeks ago, there was a young lady who had just gone off to college
and had to come back to Madison. We worked with a local car dealership and gave her an electric car. We’ve done a lot of that stuff over the last 60 days. And
those are just a couple of examples.”

The second area was ensuring that families had food above and beyond what was coming out of the school district and other institutions. They funded non-profits
like the Lussier Community Education Center to expand the volume and variety of foods that their food pantries could offer. And they also cooked meals for first
responders and their families at local restaurants. And then they hired chefs to work through the FEED Kitchen to cook and deliver culturally-relevant meals and
then deliver them to people in economically-challenged neighborhoods.

“Within 3-4 days, we had food carts out in the streets feeding kids,” Johnson said. “FEED Kitchen was able to meet that demand and because of it, we are feeding
hundreds and hundreds of kids every single day. It was important to us that if they were serving food in the Hmong community, they needed a chef who knew how to
make those foods. If it’s the African American community, the food needs to be culturally relevant to those communities. The feedback that we’ve gotten from the
people who have taken these meals is they love them. It gives me pleasure that we’re providing quality meals throughout the county, Sun Prairie and other areas. It
was something that we did right away.”

The third area that the Boys & Girls Club focused on was to purchase face masks for economically-challenged residents who may not be able to afford them, but still
may have to work or get basic staples for their families.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

With some urging from Laura Ford-Harris, the Boys & Girls Club’s chief development officer,
Michael Johnson, the club’s CEO, decided to do some emergency fundraising to help blunt the
impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on economically-challenged families in Dane County.

It was March 13th. Johnson gathered partners like Henry Sanders Jr. and Selfless Ambition
together for a press conference in his office to announce the fundraising drive that would explode
through social media, one of Johnson’s expertises. The residents of Madison and Dane County
were primed for a vehicle to do something about the pandemic, especially for those who were
most vulnerable and were less than a paycheck away from dire poverty. Between Johnson’s
coalition and the United Way of Dane County, over $2.3 million would be raised.

Johnson had brought Harris Ford and Dr. Sarah Ghee, the club’s chief programs officer back with
him from the Cincinnati United Way. They were well-versed in setting up fund distribution
processes.
“Right away — including me — people
were wearing things like underwear
on their faces or scarves,” Johnson
said. “I thought there had to be a way
that we could get facemasks to people.
So I drove up to Kentucky, met with the
CEO of the True Value Hardware
Stores and talked to Tim Metcalfe and
said, ‘I need to get some facemasks to
distribute to people for free.’ We put in
an order for 65,000 facemasks. We’ve
already distributed over 15,000 that
went to the African American Council
of Churches, most of the community
centers throughout Dane County and
have been giving out free facemasks
at our club every day from 3-5 p.m. to
pretty much anyone who shows up and
they need one.”

While Johnson and his staff raised
most of the initial $425,000 for the
immediate crisis intervention, Johnson
emphasized that it was a community
response in terms of those who helped
raise and distribute the funds and
resources in a short period of time.

“I’m very, very thankful to see all of
the work of the non-profits and the
dollars we raised, just watching how
the blessing of those resources are
helping our community for the work
that Urban Triage, Project Babies,
Lighthouse Church, the Lussier
Community Education Center and other
non-profits are doing,” Johnson
emphasized. “It is really, really
rewarding to see all of the work that
we have collectively done. It’s starting
to touch people’s lives. When I get
messages from people, whether it is
via email or social media and kids
taking pictures with facemasks and
saying thank you, it just really, really
touches your soul to see that the work
that you are doing is making an impact
on people’s lives. It’s probably the
most meaningful when you hear those
responses back from those who
needed the support.”

As for the Boys & Girls Club and their
fundraisers that have been hit hard by
COVID-19 and didn’t use any of the
emergency funds for administrative
overhead, they say that when you look
out for community, the community
looks out for you. They have been able
to meet their fundraising goals.