Community Foundation launches Disaster Response Fund

The Community Foundation of St. Clair County has launched a new Disaster Response Fund to serve any local community that may be impacted by a future disaster in St. Clair County.

“We’ve all seen so many disasters around the country lately,” said Patti Manley, the Board Chair of the Community Foundation. “Here in Michigan we’ve seen floods in Midland, tornados in Gaylord, and tragic mass shootings in other communities. We couldn’t wait any longer to take a proactive approach.”

Patti Manley.In preparation for the launch of the new Disaster Response Fund, the Community Foundation has been holding a series of community discussions about the new fund and how and when it could be activated. A very generous donation from the James C. Acheson Charitable Foundation has provided the first $50,000 in funding and the Community Foundation hopes to add another $50,000 from donors before year-end. 

“Our staff has been working on this since early 2023,” said Manley. “And we’ve been in close collaboration with Justin Westmiller, and the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, since last summer.”

“The timing of this couldn’t be any better,” said Justin Westmiller. “I know I speak for not only our department, but our local police and fire departments as well who are all greatly appreciative of this proactive work by our local Community Foundation.”

For transparency and preparation purposes, the Foundation launched a new website that outlines how and when the fund could be used. As structured, it would provide flexible and discretionary funds almost instantly for first responders and local nonprofits who would help a community deal with and recover from a disaster.

Not only would the Disaster Response Fund be able to provide immediate financial support, but it would also become the primary site for donations from the community and anyone around the world who wanted to help.

Randy Maiers, President & CEO of the Community Foundation adds that this new fund would be under local control and would be able to provide complete transparency about how the funds and donations were used. Community members are encouraged to read through the details of who would make up that local control on the website.  

“The key for the public to understand is what constitutes a disaster,” added Maiers. Learning from other foundations around the country, the Community Foundation has defined a disaster as: an event, natural or man-made or economic, which causes death and/or destruction on a scale that overwhelms the ability of the community’s resources to maintain stability, save lives and preserve property.

Key to that definition is that it overwhelms the ability of the community’s resources. This means an unfortunate and tragic house fire that affects only one family would not be a disaster that would activate this fund.

Under the terms of the Fund, a disaster may be declared at either the Federal level, State level, or the County level, as initiated by the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, or by the Foundation itself. A Foundation declared disaster would only come after a request by a local community when their local resources were overwhelmed and they could not maintain stability, save lives and preserve property on their own. These decisions would be made in close consultation with the Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Justin Westmiller. However, a Community Foundation declared disaster carries no legal weight for other governmental entities.

 “It’s one of those things we hope to never use,” said Maiers. “But in today’s world, we feel that our Community Foundation, and probably every community foundation in America, should establish their protocols and policies so they are ready and able to respond in an instant.” 

For more information or to make a gift, visit our website at and join us in being St. Clair County Strong!
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