A year later, wrapping up the North Minneapolis tornado money chase

Almost immediately after the tornado struck North Minneapolis in May 2011, the Minneapolis Foundation established its Minnesota Helps Fund and raised $1,756,060 to assist Northside residents. Many other groups and organizations furthered the cause with food drives and fundraising events.

On July 14, MSR began a series of stories called “Chasing the Tornado Money” with the following subhead: “Community individuals, local corporations and foundations have contributed well over a million dollars in donations, grants and matching funds to assist North Minneapolis residents affected by the May 22 tornado. Responding to questions from readers about where all these dollars are going, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder decided to provide a community service by reporting, in the interest of transparency, on just where the funds have gone and how they have been used.”

One year and several “Chasing the Tornado Money” stories later, the MSR interviews three individuals representing three major contributors to the recovery effort — the foundation, the participating community organizations, and the Northside Community Response Team — on how they now view the work completed and the relief provided to storm victims through funds totaling more than $2 million.

The Foundation

“Our fundraising efforts were really concentrated on the first year [of the recovery],” reports Minneapolis Foundation Grantmaking and Special Projects Director Jo-Anne Stately. “We know that the amount of destruction that happened in North Minneapolis is significant. This is the most money that we raised in the shortest period of time in our history that was related to a disaster.”

Highlights in the foundation’s “Report to the Community” released in May this year include:

Over 51,000 individuals received food and cooking supplies.

Nearly 300 homes were repaired.

1,233 households got assistance from local agencies.

It “was an opportunity to show [that] a community foundation like the Minneapolis Foundation can work and partner together in a very quick time to address some very immediate needs,” explains Stately.

The Minnesota Helps — North Minneapolis Recovery Fund distributed the donated money across six general service areas: basic needs ($296,284), case management ($428,250), children and youth ($292,593), employment ($307,533), housing ($339,400), and small business ($92,000).

“All the funds have been granted,” says Stately.

When asked for a more detailed breakdown of these funds and how they were used, Stately said that “it’s up to the grantees” (those receiving the funds) to publicly disclose how the grants were disbursed. “We don’t give a breakdown on how much was spent on each of those proposals. We don’t do that publicly.”

Navigating through frustration

“Our neighborhoods were already in trouble” before last year’s tornado, says Bettye Howell, whose Shiloh Temple Church worked with storm victims. Shiloh was one of about 35 organizations that received funds through the Minnesota Helps Fund (see sidebar “Allocation of Minnesota Helps Fund” on page 9).

“Before anyone gave us a dime, we opened up our church,” Howell points out. The church did eventually receive $25,908 in Minnesota Helps funds for a summer program for 60 kids affected by the storm, and it hired two “navigators” to work with individuals and families in finding assistance after the storm.

“Six navigators at six different sites” were hired overall to assist Northside tornado victims, two through Pillsbury United Communities, which received one $35,000 grant directly from Minnesota Helps and other unspecified allocations through the NCRT.

“You try to meet their need to the best of your ability,” recalled Angela Bennett Dwanyen of her work as a Shiloh navigator. Many residents she assisted were frustrated in seeking help: “You let them know you are trying your best [to help them] and meet the need that they had,” she said.

“A very high frustration level” often existed as residents sought help, notes Howell. “Some people were frustrated because they wanted to get their money right away, but we didn’t have any. We had to explain to them that we had to send the paperwork, and people were frustrated [with this].

“There was nothing we could do because we didn’t have access to any [funds].”

NCRT on a mission

The Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) was a group of nearly 40 agencies, organizations, churches and businesses that came together to help meet the needs of the North Minneapolis residents affected by the storm. The headline of MSR’s sixth story in the series, published August 25, was “Northside Community Response Team promises new level of accountability, transparency.” The collaboration was to create a new model of “how to get things done,” doing its business in an open forum with full public disclosure of its finances.

Minneapolis Foundation’s Stately says of the NCRT that she was impressed with how quickly the local organizations and agencies collectively met “to chart out how this recovery would look. It wasn’t an outside entity saying what [the] recovery process would look like. You saw new leadership surface as a result of this tragedy.”

“This is new to all of us,” admits Sanctuary CDC Executive Director Rev. Richard Coleman. “We did not have the capacity” for dealing with a crisis such as last year’s storm.” The Minneapolis Foundation referred MSR to Rev. Coleman for specific information on how the NCRT has spent its funds.

On January 1, 2012, Sanctuary CDC became the fiscal agent for NCRT’s grants. (A fiscal agent is required to receive and disburse funds for an unincorporated group such as the NCRT.) The Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches had previously served as fiscal agent; according to the foundation, the change came about “at the request of both parties.”

Coleman, Chad Schwitters of Urban Homeworks, Northside Achievement Zone CEO Sondra Samuels, Minneapolis Urban League President Scott Gray, and Summit Academy OIC’s Louis King currently make up the five-person NCRT “Core Team” that is responsible for financial decision-making — what service providers get paid, and how much. Core Team members have changed since our August 25 story, when we were told they included Chanda Baker of Pillsbury United, Stella Whitney-West of NorthPoint Health & Wellness, Peter Hayden of Turning Point, and Lissa Jones, as well as King, Schwitter and Gray.

“We had no history of working together,” continues Coleman on the NCRT’s development. “All of us had a common objective — that the folk [affected by the storm]…get what they need. The bottom line was if we can stay at the table and hang together, we can learn how to function in a collaborative working for the sake of our city.

“We were able to fight through some hard times…some name-calling. But we were so committed to the mission that we understood that we were not going to allow that to distract us or ignore it,” says Coleman.

“This was not a bunch of folk who had the opportunity to handle a few hundred-thousands of dollars. The [NCRT] leadership was committed to living out our mission to make lives better for the poorest in our community, individuals and families. It wasn’t perfect.”

He says the NCRT gave the Minneapolis Foundation its most recent financial report on June 29. “All the money was spent,” says Coleman. A balance sheet provided by Coleman shows remaining cash on hand of $470.78. However, the balance sheet accounts for only $160,668 of at least $395,000 the NCRT received from Minneapolis Helps Fund. The foundation says a final report is expected later this summer.

The $160,668 budget shows actual expenditures as follows: Project Manager (identified as Debra Chavis at Pillsbury United Communities — $20,126); Navigators ($52,565); ECA (identified as “a person hired to feed data into a Red Cross database” — $33,187); Communications (identified as “printing flyers” and “buying time on KMOJ for PSAs” — $19,774); Administrative ($15,588); Data-Base Coordinator ($14,716); Assess and Eval (University of Minnesota/UROC — $5,000); and Business/Office Supplies ($2,365).

Based on this budget — the only one of its kind we have seen — direct service to tornado victims through navigators comprised only $52,565 (32 percent, less than one-third) of total actual expenditures of $163,321, most of the rest going to management, administration, communications, a database and an evaluation.

However, a complete report of NCRT expenditures of approximately $395,000 granted to the group by Minnesota Cares for storm-related assistance might reflect a different ratio of direct to supportive/administrative services. Also, it is important to note that the NCRT provided administrative oversight to 30-40 participating organizations who received separate grants to provide direct service, and therefore its administrative expenditures would reflect this emphasis.

Looking ahead…

“It takes years to get people [affected by such a storm] back on their feet,” believes Howell. “We needed more than $2.5 million — we needed a whole lot more. It was very short-term help. I think it was too short. We don’t have navigators anymore, but people are still coming through the doors.”

She adds, “It was painful to me” when people questioned her church’s efforts in the storm’s aftermath. There “was grumbling in the air” among community residents over how and who handled the Minnesota Helps funds. Nevertheless, Howell says of the NCRT, “It was a good effort.”

“What is it that our people don’t trust each other enough to try to help us get together?” asks Howell. “What is it that would satisfy the people who are looking for accountability?”

Coleman admits that the entire process “wasn’t perfect,” adding that the Transparency and Accountability Committee formed last summer disbanded after three months. “We chose to use these people in a proactive way, representing the NCRT” in the community, he explains.

The NCRT Core Team members recently held a one-day retreat, Coleman says. “We wanted to do our own assessment on what happened in the past year — why were you there, why you are still here, and what is in this for you.

”Everybody had the opportunity to say what they wanted to say. We learned some things about each other.”

Stately notes that although the Minneapolis Foundation’s year-long commitment to the tornado recovery effort concluded at the end of May, she sees “a great momentum that is happening on the North Side…and I think it will continue to grow. We will continue to invest in North Minneapolis.”

For commentary on lessons learned in the course of publishing our “Chasing the Tornado Money” series, see “In Our View” on this week’s editorial page.

The entire Minnesota Helps report can be downloaded from the Minneapolis Foundation website: www.MinneapolisFoundation.org.

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Jerry Freeman's picture
Jerry Freeman

Jerry Freeman is the editor of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

Charles Hallman's picture
Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman writes regularly for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and blogs at Another View.