The Lewis-Clark Valley Healthcare Foundation is loosening its purse strings to give local nonprofits a leg up while they wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Rusche, chairman of the foundation’s board of community advisers, said the foundation is opening its Fast Track grant program early and doubling awards to $10,000 to help qualifying health-related organizations in the nine Idaho, Washington and Oregon counties around Lewiston.

“The not-for-profits are going to need that (funding) to provide their services now,” Rusche said Monday. “Many of them have lost fundraising, either because they can’t do their fun runs, or their galas, or their silent auctions, because of the isolation orders. So there’s an increased demand while there’s a decreased ability for them to get the funds they need to support either their staff or their volunteers, or purchase products that they need.”

Rusche pointed to area meal delivery programs for seniors and food banks as the type of organization that could apply for grants. He also mentioned organizations like transportation services and nonprofit child care providers, but said any number of groups may get approval as long as they support the foundation’s mission of promoting health, wellness and disease prevention.

Organizations in Clearwater, Idaho, Latah, Lewis and Nez Perce counties in Idaho; Asotin, Garfield and Whitman in Washington; and Wallowa in Oregon are eligible. Applications can be submitted online at www.lewisclarkhealth.org.

“Anything that helps support (the nonprofits), from housing to transportation,” he said. “It could be caregivers at nonprofit hospitals and clinics need extra help buying protective gear, should they be able to find it.”

The Fast Track program awarded $5,000 grants to more than 40 groups last year, but the board agreed to double that amount in the face of the pandemic. And Rusche said that amount could increase in the future if the board sees sufficient need.

“It allows them to have more impact,” Rusch said of the larger grants.

Grant applications last year were due by October, and checks were awarded in November. But this year’s program is open now, and Rusche said awards should be processed in a matter of weeks, not months.

The foundation will still take applications for its larger, “Impact” grants, although the increase in the Fast Track grants will mean there is less funding for those awards. Impact grants require a much more detailed application, Rusche said, and typically go to larger organizations.

Rusche said he has heard first-hand of the need for fast support among the targeted groups.

“I’ve talked to some of the part-time executive directors for some of the smaller not-for-profits, and they’re just beside themselves,” over their lost revenues, he said, noting that some have even talked about shutting down. “This may allow them a way to continue to serve, and to serve in ways that are meaningful at this time.”

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden established the foundation in 2017 as part of the sale of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center by Ascension Health to RCCH Healthcare Partners. The foundation awarded more than $800,000 last year, its second funding cycle.

Mills may be contacted at jmills@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2266.