Working close to home - how Commerce is responding to the impact of the coronavirus.
When it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to have an enormous effect on every one of our communities, our strategy was to act quickly, but thoughtfully, to make sure our efforts would be focused on where they mattered most.
“Each market is very different, and very individualized” says Charlotte Kemper, director of charitable trusts & foundations for Commerce. “In addition to engagement across our footprint with national organizations like the United Way, we rely on our local leaders to advise the Commerce Bancshares Foundation’s charitable giving and help us hone in on who really needs help.”
Immediate needs, immediate solutions.Many of these opportunities come from long-standing relationships that have been built with local nonprofits over the years. Commerce Bank in St. Joseph has been involved with the local Meals on Wheels program for over 30 years. Commerce employees deliver meals to one route every week, but with shelter in place and social distancing rules in effect they couldn’t make their regular weekly deliveries without risking the health of both teammates and recipients. “It was a hard decision to stop, because some of these people have no other ways of getting a hot meal,” said Corky Marquart, market president and CEO of Commerce Bank in St. Joseph. So, they stepped up the financial aspect of their giving instead to support the organization and help alleviate the need. “Our goal is to make an impact where it’s needed most.”
Commerce is supporting a variety of community organizations that make sure those who need help don’t go hungry. The Food Bank of Iowa, Harvesters in Kansas City, Wichita’s Food Bank of Reno County, and the Urban League Food Distribution Project in St. Louis are just a few nonprofits the Commerce Bancshares Foundation has assisted recently.
Doug Neff, chairman & CEO of Commerce Bank in Southwest Missouri, also has food insecurity in mind as he plans where to provide support in his local communities. One place he focused on is Ozarks Food Harvest, the Feeding America food bank for that region, serving 270 hunger-relief organizations across 28 counties. “Given the times, with people out of work and kids at home, we knew that this was something we wanted to focus on,” says Neff.
Bart Brown, president and CEO of Ozarks Food Harvest agrees. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this is a totally different kind of disaster than we’ve ever seen, because it’s so long-term and affects all socioeconomic levels. There are a lot of people who’ve never had to ask for help before and don’t know how to get it.” Brown is grateful for the support he’s received from Commerce over the years—not only in the form of donations, but also community advocacy and volunteering. “Commerce is one of those partners you don’t have to ask for help. They just step up.”
Helping women and children in crisis.Support is needed in areas beyond food, too. The added stress from COVID-19, combined with stay at home orders, has meant domestic violence is on the rise. The Commerce Bancshares foundation has provided support for many organizations working to provide services for victims of domestic violence, including Hope House and Synergy Services in Kansas City, and Women’s Safe House in St. Louis.
Chris Holder, Dallas market president, has had a long-standing charitable relationship with Emily’s Place, which helps women and their children escape the cycle of abuse. Holder knew the needs for the housing, counseling, and care that Emily’s Place provides was only going to grow as the pandemic went on—but he also was aware that one of their main sources of funding, their annual fundraising gala, had been canceled. Holder proactively reached out to the organization to see how he could help them continue to provide long-term housing and resources for survivors. “I am a big proponent of thoughtful giving,” says Holder. “I treat Commerce’s money like my own. I look for the right opportunities, and I want to know our donations are well spent, and they’re going where they can do the most good.”
Neighbors helping neighbors.Commerce Bancshares Foundation is supporting many collaborative local efforts to provide relief from the effects of COVID-19, through the United Way in many markets, and through local community foundations in others.
In St. Louis, Commerce was already working with InvestSTL to revitalize and strengthen neighborhoods that have faced decline. When InvestSTL launched their Neighborhood Solidarity Fund, designed to support areas that stand to be hardest hit by COVID-19, Commerce Bancshares Foundation was happy to be among the first banks in the area to add to the fund.
The fund boosts these neighborhoods in several ways, including providing stability grants to help local community development organization keep operating to provide emergency services and support, and Small Business Lift Grants for neighborhood-serving businesses. These businesses are typically very small, rely on foot traffic for customers, and employ neighborhood residents. Over 80% are owned by people of color, and their survival is important to the community. In addition to the grants, InvestSTL and Commerce also put together educational seminars for these businesses to help them understand how to apply for PPP loans.
“We can’t solve everything for these businesses, but we can give them time to breathe and buy them enough time to decide what their next move is,” says Dara Eskridge, executive director of InvestSTL. “We do lots of pivoting to meet needs as best we can. We are grateful for the support and flexibility that donations like those from Commerce supply.”
As we all adjust to a new routine and new ways of doing business, Commerce will continue to be involved in our communities and make a difference where it matters most. Commerce Bank is here for our customers – in good times and challenging times – and this situation is no exception. We appreciate your continued trust and the privilege to serve you.
If you are a Commerce Bank customer facing financial hardship due to job loss, reduced hours or other impact from the coronavirus, we’re here for you. Please call us at 833-518-3458 to discuss your current accounts or visit commercebank.com/coronavirus for more information.