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Initiative Quarterly

COVID-19 Early Childhood Grants


Note: This program is no longer awarding grants. 

Grants Support Learning Recovery; Food Assistance and Crisis Child Care Services

In July 2021, the Initiative Foundation was awarded $250,000 from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund to support vulnerable children impacted by COVID. The definition of vulnerable includes: ethnic minorities and/or English as a second language, low-income, special needs and/or those in rural areas who lack access to basic early childhood educational services. The funding supports children ages birth to eight. 

Applications will be accepted to support:

      • Learning recovery: Programs that help children meet or return to grade-level standards as a way of recognizing that distance learning and other COVID-19 interruptions were hard for many children.
      • Food assistance: Programs to cover meal costs for children whose households are experiencing economic hardship.
      • Crisis Child Care Services: Support for services associated with short-term care for those who have lost access to routine child care.
All applicants must be serving children in the 14-county Initiative Foundation service area.


Over the past decade, rural Minnesota communities have lost many early childhood providers and educators. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of these professionals face challenges to stay in the field. Resources for training, social-emotional and physical health supports and new distance learning programs are greatly needed. However, little or no funding is available.

Since March 2020, the Initiative Foundation has been working during the pandemic to support the child care field throughout Central Minnesota. Requests from providers and educators continue to rise, increasing the demand for additional funds.

The service region of the Initiative Foundation has a population of more than 750,000, and the focus of these grant cycles will be on the underserved populations most impacted by the pandemic. Because of the large, varied region we serve, we know the importance of the right-sized solutions in each community due to their diversity, poverty, health equity and other barriers.

Data from Minnesota Compass indicates that Central Minnesota has an average poverty rate for children (ages birth to 5) of 9.4 percent. However, 10 of the region’s 14 counties—those beyond the Twin Cities metropolitan ring counties—have rates in the 10 to 15 percent range.

The pandemic has exposed dramatic disparities across our communities, with some families impacted only by the “change of habit” of now working remotely while others face job losses, housing and/or food insecurity, and even more limited access to health care. One example is households where a family member works in a meat-packing facility (a workforce nearly entirely Latinx or East African). As one elder noted, “We live in large families in small quarters; when one family member becomes sick it spreads to everyone.”

Many child care professionals were severely impacted by the governor’s stay-at-home orders as parents pulled their children from child care and/or struggled to make payments. Low-income households also are affected by loss of access to school- and child care-based nutritional programs, and many lack access to internet, which has been the primary tool for supporting distance learning.

“These grant rounds are designed to fund a wide range of activities, from distance learning and summer programs to programs that support the mental health of childcare providers to training on how to talk to kids about the pandemic and basic supplies to clean and sterilize child care facilities,” said Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation vice president for workforce and community development. “The bottom line is that we need to support our underserved communities and deliver real, meaningful resources to bridge the gaps, especially for those who lack access to basic early childhood educational services.”



 Don Hickman
Vice President for Community
 Workforce Development
(320) 631-2043


Jessy Beto
Program Specialist

(320) 631-2057