Summer is typically the slow season for donations to 360 Communities, the Burnsville-based nonprofit serving the needy in Dakota County.

The first quarter of the October-to-September fiscal year is usually the most fruitful, said Tony Compton, 360’s marketing and communications director.

“But this year, it just hasn’t stopped,” Compton said. “The donations are just coming in.”

Audited numbers aren’t in yet, he said, but since COVID-19 hit, 360 and many other human-service nonprofits have seen a surge in giving.

“We’re taking in more donations for sure,” Compton said. “And I know we’re not alone. It’s happening all over.”

The funding has allowed for such additions as permanent family support worker positions at 360’s resource centers in Burnsville and Rosemount, as well as a year-round housing support worker position to help keep people in their homes, according to Compton.

Through its many programs — from domestic violence prevention to school-based family support workers and the county’s largest network of food shelves — 360 served 16,644 people in 2019.

That included hunger relief for 9,535 — and the pandemic has worsened the problem.

Before the onset of the pandemic, one in 11 Minnesotans struggled to afford food, according to Second Harvest Heartland. Now it’s one in eight.

360 is seeing “new faces — people who never thought they would need help from 360 Communities,” President and CEO Jeff Mortensen wrote in an August newspaper column. “They are now living with job insecurity, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, inadequate access to food, loss of health care, unreliable transportation and any combination of those.”

The number of people unused to or uncomfortable with asking for help will grow, Compton predicted.

“You’re going to have people who never imagined being in this position and having to overcome this, because there’s all kinds of stigma with having to go somewhere and ask for help,” he said.

A moratorium on evictions was extended in the $900 billion COVID-19 bill recently passed by Congress, but housing affordability was a problem even before the pandemic, Compton said.

“Our affordable housing has been in a bad state in Dakota County — there are people working on it,” he said. “But it was tough before. Now, with unemployment being as high as it is ... people are having long spurts of unemployment and even if they get employed again, they’re behind on their bills. That’s just been exacerbated by COVID.”

Because of the pandemic, 360’s Armful of Love holiday gift program shifted to gift cards this year instead of individual gifts for families purchased and wrapped by donors. Most years the program serves about 1,000 families; this year it served 700 to 800, Compton said.

360, which spent $5.27 million in fiscal 2019, has buttressed its receipts during the pandemic with federal CARES Act grants, other grants and partnerships with Dakota County, Compton said.

But the community has been quick to respond with financial and in-kind donations.

“It’s incredible, the amount of generosity we have in Dakota County,” Compton said. “It’s faith communities, it’s businesses, but it’s individuals as well, people who recognize if they’re doing OK, they want their neighbors to be doing OK. It really says something about community in a world where we’re so divided.”

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