In the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and the flooding in the Mid-Atlantic, national foundation leaders noted the inadequacy of the philanthropic response to that devastating crisis. Every responsible foundation across the nation recognized that we need to better prepare for the crisis that one day will arrive at our own front door.
While hurricanes are unlikely to hit Door County, our groundwater and lakes are vulnerable. Further, our dependence on seasonal tourism presents a significant economic concentration of risk for people who make a living on our peninsula. At the Community Foundation, we didn’t know what crisis would hit Door County, but we knew one was inevitable. Thus, in 2013 we very quietly created protocols for the Door County Emergency Response Fund. We then put them on the shelf and prayed we would never have to use them.
On March 19 of this year, the Community Foundation activated the Door County Emergency Response Fund. When doing so, we also decided to partner with United Way. It was easy envision the tremendous economic damage that lay ahead. Door County would need to pull together like we’ve never done before. United Way’s professional staff has a depth of human service expertise that could be exceptionally helpful. We recognized that it didn’t matter whose Fund it is or who was there first. All that mattered was the need to marshal our resources and hold together as one County.
I share this story because I see a disturbing division developing in Door County. There seems to be a growing desire to demonize and divide ourselves from our seasonal friends at the very same time we should be pulling together. We must recognize that it doesn’t matter whose County this is or who was here first. All that matters is the need to marshal our resources and hold together as one County.
We should abide by the State’s safer-at-home order which says, “Travel to second homes or residences should be avoided if possible.” That is the best thinking from our scientists and healthcare professionals, and we should respect that. Yet the only way we will endure the economic pain ahead is if we support one another in a spirit of community, and that community very much includes our seasonal residents. Door County would be greatly diminished without them.
Our friends at United Way tell us that the Door County Emergency Response Fund has received more contributions, on a per capita basis, than any other similar effort in Wisconsin. These donations are already doing a tremendous amount of good. The Fund is helping pay for hundreds of meals a day for people who are out of work. It’s buying diapers and formula for struggling parents. The Fund is also equipping medical facilities with COVID-19 test kits and related equipment. A complete list of all distributions is at http://www.RespondDoorCounty.org.
The Emergency Response Fund will become even more important later this year as the economic damage spreads with the loss of much of our season. We all know people who work a ridiculous number of hours during the warm months then use that income to sustain them through the cold months. What’s going to happen to those families next fall and winter when they have to live without any summer savings? The Emergency Response Fund is a critically important tool we will use to quickly shift money around to the organizations that are doing the best job helping our year ‘round neighbors who are struggling.
Here’s the thing, though. Thus far, at least 68% of the money donated to the Emergency Response Fund came via checks with mailing addresses outside of Door County and/or people we know to be seasonal residents. Given that there are a lot of donors that we’ve never met, it’s likely than seasonal residents account for even more than 68% of contributions.
I am not implying that seasonal residents are more important to Door County than those of us who live here all year long. But I do want to remind everyone that we are at our best when we function as one community, both year ‘round and seasonal residents alike. Regardless of how many months we are here, we all love Door County and care passionately about its future. We would do well to remember that.
If we are to endure the pain that is ahead of us, we will need each other more than ever before. We can get through this, but only if we hold together as one community.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on May 1, 2020.