Charitable Giving for Social Services Rising

Above: Heather Carlson volunteers to deliver food for the nonprofit organization Al Exito.


When Des Moines tumbled into social and economic uncertainty as the pandemic enveloped it and the nation, the community responded with a robust outpouring of financial support—and continues to do so.

At the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, there has been a 40% increase this year over last in grants from donor-advised funds that are handled by the organization. That’s $12.35 million that has been directed toward charitable causes, and Lynn Yontz and Angie Dethlefs-Trettin, officers at the foundation, note that social services are now the leading category for donations, supplanting education.

The foundation also reports that there has been a whopping 173% rise in usage of its GIVEdsm platform,, which showcases dozens of charities and alerts readers to their financial needs (and allows donations at the touch of a button).

Started with a $200,000 kitty from the foundation and United Way of Central Iowa, a separate Disaster Recovery Fund has collected more than $1 million from businesses and individuals that supports charitable organizations working on the front lines with people affected by the pandemic. Money has gone, for instance, to the Des Moines Area Religious Council, Iowa Legal Aid and the Food Bank of Iowa.

A good example of how charitable dollars are being put to new uses is found at Al Exito, a nonprofit group that works statewide to build leadership potential among young Latinos. Due in large part to its connections to the immigrant community, Al Exito has pivoted from that traditional role and now is providing financial support for rent, utilities and food to people left out of COVID-19 relief programs.

“We serve undocumented families,” said Dawn Oropeza, executive director at Al Exito. “Most had no income coming in. No access to aid.” When someone without documents loses a job, there is no state or federal jobless pay to support them. There is no federal stimulus pay, either, even if they have paid income taxes.

This has been an all-hands-on-deck situation for charitable organizations, both for fundraising and disbursement. Money for Al Exito’s work, for instance, has come from the Recovery Fund. Other support for Al Exito has come from the First Unitarian Church and the Mid Iowa Health Foundation. And its outreach efforts have been joined by the American Friends Service Committee and Proteus Inc. Together they have formed an Immigrant Emergency Fund. And most of the financial support for all of these groups has come from the people of Des Moines who are battling the financial challenge posed by the coronavirus.

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