“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

- Fred Rogers

Helpers come in many forms; and sometimes they are not always seen out in the front, but they are the drivers behind the lines: organizing, planning and covering the details. Erin Wiggins, Programs Officer of the Gaston Community Foundation is doing just that. Wiggins oversees grants from the Foundation and has played a vital role in the establishment of the Gaston County Virus Relief Fund Grant Application.

The Gaston County Virus Relief Fund is a partnership between the Gaston Community Foundation and the United Way of Gaston County, with strong support from the David Belk Cannon Foundation, First Gaston Foundation Fund, and the City of Gastonia; along with many caring individuals.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in the Gaston area, Wiggins has dedicated her time to helping others. The establishment of the Virus Relief Fund came with many moving pieces. How to raise funds? Setting up an application for the nonprofits and businesses to apply for funding. Creating a committee to review the applications and determine funding. Notification of funding to recipients. Each of these items are accompanied by many questions from donors, nonprofits, community members and committee members. Wiggins has served point on many of the questions that have come up over the last several weeks.

From the start of the Virus Relief, Wiggins created the application for the Fund. She was considerate in the length of the application, understanding nonprofits do not have the time to fill out lengthy questions, but must be direct in their role to the response of the Virus. Following the establishment of the application, the need for a diverse committee to determine funding was considered. Wiggins knew there was a need for a Committee that would represent all areas of the Community, but also a Committee that had time to review applications weekly and who could meet virtually to respond quickly to growing needs in the Gaston area. She successfully implemented the application and Committee that has met weekly since April 1st.

In a time of confusion and frustration for many, Wiggins has risen to the challenge of providing funding through the Virus Relief Fund to organizations and businesses. When asked about the challenges she has faced thus far with the Fund, Wiggins responded, “Everyone in our community has been affected by COVID19 so the biggest challenge for the Virus Relief Fund Grant Committee has been determining which organizations should receive priority funding because they are all doing such important work. We have a strong grant committee that has done a remarkable job sharing their ideas, input, and knowledge about our community to help guide us in making thoughtful and strategic funding decisions.”

Many people are curious as to the typical day of trying to meet our community needs, but we are living in a time that is very much atypical. The key to responding to the needs of the virus relief is a moving target. Wiggins must concentrate on the highest needs and work her way back around to the organizations who are hurting, but not directly relieving people affected by the Virus.

President of the Foundation, Ernest Sumner stated, “Our Community has been faced with huge challenges in health, our economy and community morale. Erin has accepted this challenge and worked diligently behind the scenes to alleviate issues in our Community. She has put in countless hours each week ensuring the best outcomes from the Virus Relief Fund.”

We are fortunate that the Gaston Community does not have to look far to find our “helpers.”