When the COVID-19 pandemic led Delta-Montrose Electric Association to move its annual meeting online for the second straight year, the Colorado co-op wanted to remind members that it’s still a part of the community.
The Montrose-based co-op is turning the $30,000 that was budgeted for the live annual meeting into a special grant program for local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Business owners can fill out applications, and DMEA will announce winners during its June 17 virtual meeting.
“We weren’t quite comfortable going in-person yet because we have an at-risk demographic,” said the co-op’s Rachael DeRossi, who came up with the idea along with colleague Laura Sanders, communications and marketing specialist.
“We wanted to do what we could do for the community members on which we rely for our food, entertainment, life necessities, little extras and companionship,” said DeRossi, digital communications and marketing specialist. “We are hopeful that this program will help small businesses weather the hardships of COVID-19 and come out on the other side ready to pick up where they left off.”
With many large gatherings on hold nationwide until more people are vaccinated, other co-ops are continuing to opt for virtual events. And with the money saved from facility rentals, meals and other meeting logistics, co-ops are repurposing funds to help members.
“For many of our members, 2020 was a tough year,” said Cheryl Hagfors, chief financial officer and vice president of member services at Braham, Minnesota-based East Central Energy, which donated $72,000 in unspent funds to food banks in its 14-county service area late last year.
“We recognized an opportunity to help our neighbors in need and immediately got to work.”
In Colorado, those extra dollars will be a big boost for “the little stores on Main Street” that rely on foot traffic that vanished during the pandemic, said Sandy Head, executive director of the Montrose Economic Development Corp.
“Your Home Depots and big box stores were slammed with business because people were spending money on their homes,” she said. “The grants will help those who don’t have the wherewithal to apply for government grants. Every dollar helps.”
With the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour going virtual again in 2021, organizers are also coming up with new ways to spend funds originally intended to send young people to Washington, D.C. More funds are now going toward scholarships as well as specific online programs for participants in their states.
In Montana, Sun River Electric Cooperative funneled funds budgeted for Youth Tour into two essay scholarships last year and one this year. Those recipients and students from elsewhere in the state are eligible for another $2,500 prize awarded by the Montana Electric Cooperatives’ Association.
“It’s not the same as the trip to D.C., and learning about cooperatives and leadership, but we thought it was important to keep the program and the name going,” said Ryan Hall, communications director for MECA, based in Great Falls. “We wanted to do something other than just make it dormant for a year.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.