In the 1980s, southwest Minnesota was facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Farmers were losing the land that their families had worked for generations. Businesses along main streets and industrial parks were closing.

Unemployment was at an all-time high, and people were losing hope.

That’s when the McKnight Foundation teamed up with local community leaders and created the Southwest Initiative Foundation.

We were meant to be a counter punch to the crisis, alleviating human distress and promoting economic development.

Nearly 35 years later, we see striking similarities with the emotional and economic hardship that many are experiencing.

In the same way, people are coming together now, caring for one another and helping those who need it the most.

The Southwest Initiative Foundation has built incredible relationships, developed unique programs and collaborated across all sectors to keep our communities strong and vibrant. Our resources and experience positioned us to respond quickly during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since March, we have deployed more than $2.8 million in emergency loans and grants to support businesses, including child care providers and organizations that serve youth, students and families. Generous support from donors and partners who are able to give right now is extending our reach.

Yet, there is so much more we can and must do.

Our hearts ache for the pain our communities are experiencing. 

The senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has placed longstanding disparities that separate people along racial and economic lines in full view. We hope that this pivotal moment in history will spark reflection, learning and change, and Southwest Initiative Foundation commits to doing our part.

Our vision is for our communities to be a place where all people thrive.  We believe that dignity and belonging are core human values, and we will work together with communities to address the systems and barriers that prevent people from reaching their full potential. 

At a time of division and uncertainty, we must lead with our organizational values of equity, collaboration, integrity, curiosity and optimism to help ensure a safe and better future for all.

One thing we can all do is put kindness and empathy first. Every person’s situation is different, and some of our neighbors are experiencing more challenges than ever before.

The Southwest Initiative Foundation’s current grant round open through July 1 is focused on meeting basic needs like food security, mental health and safety against domestic violence and homelessness.

Find more details at swifoundation.org.

We must keep working hard and working together to ensure all southwest Minnesotans get through these difficult days and share in a brighter future.

– Diana Anderson serves as the president and CEO of the Southwest Initiative Foundation