Acute need requires emergency aid. While life has come to a standstill in many places in recent months, work has continued at full speed at the Archdiocese’s Foundation Center. Because, due to corona, the number of applications for support has increased considerably.
Interviewer: Ms. Bohme-Barz, the shutdown from mid-March has brought many areas of work to a standstill. The Foundation Center is otherwise a living organism, which lives much from contact and exchange with the donors, but also those who depend on financial support of an initiative or a project from outside. And it’s always about people who would otherwise fall by the wayside. What does the Corona crisis currently mean for the foundation system??
Elke Bohme-Barz (Head of the Foundation Center in the Archdiocese): At no time have we had the opportunity to decelerate. Rather the opposite. For the virus has rather quickly exposed the whole range of human need and put us in charge with many inquiries. Children who normally get breakfast at school felt like they were locked up at home, experiencing even more directly than usual what it means when their own parents can’t provide enough food, for example. Old people, who otherwise already complain of loneliness, have fallen into complete isolation. And poor people who depend on the food bank did not know where they could get adequate food for their daily needs. For many of these people, it’s about financial need. They didn’t know how they were going to get through the month.
In the end, Corona uncovered a lot of shameful poverty. And that is in an otherwise very well-oiled world, in which the priority for many is higher, faster, further: in other words, optimizing one’s own standard of living. And all at once a pandemic paralyzes our lives, and we are thrust with power into what is really important in life: namely, relationships. We notice that just in our longing to be in touch with others in person and not just zoom in on them via video conference. For this reason, we at the Foundation Center have been busy around the clock finding solutions to some of the acute needs presented to us, and therefore staying in close contact with our donors.
Interviewer: What does this mean in concrete terms?
Boehme-Barz: The lockdown was initially something like a zero hour, which we first had to deal with in order to then find out what it does to people. It has been a great help to us that we are on friendly terms with our founders and have a functioning network at our disposal. I regularly send out emails under the heading "Being connected" to stay in touch with the philanthropic community. For their part, the donors also ask how they can help in this situation and where there is an acute need for action. Normally, someone who is fully active in society has little time to get involved or to care – we usually take care of that for the benefactors.
But all of a sudden, people used this time out to think beyond themselves – more globally. And we are then the coordination point, linking the applying institutions with those who want to alleviate need. Our concern is to find solutions. But in the end, it’s really always about relationships. Because the foundation system thrives on people being in relationship with each other, telling their stories and telling us about their ideas that they want to link with a foundation.
Interviewer: Every year, the Foundation Center receives a total of about 200 applications for support. At the moment, inquiries and requests to help with many small projects reach her almost daily. How do you deal with it?
Bohme-Barz: It’s not always just large sums that are in demand. Even with a lot of small things, acute need can be alleviated – when I think, for example, of Sr. Ancilla from the Cologne Karmel, where people in need of help regularly knock on the monastery door and she then takes 10 or 20 euro vouchers for food from her apron. Of course, now in the Corona time, more people were standing in front of their door again. And when I told one of the donors about it, she immediately said: I’ll make a large donation to this cause. She simply liked the old tradition of beggars ringing the doorbells of monasteries and being able to trust that they would not be turned away, but would receive help to bridge an acute need.
Or: We provided money from the Archbishop’s Relief Fund for food vouchers to the neighborhood help organization "Kolsch Hatz"; for people who would otherwise be served by the food bank, but whose pensions would not be sufficient without the support of the food bank. So we don’t just help on a grand scale, but can make a big difference with just a little in a lot of small places. I could tell you some of these stories, behind which there are always concrete faces..
Bohme-Barz: The SKFM Monheim has applied for the establishment of a mobile food bank service to support elderly chronically ill or homeless people. We immediately funded this request with 1000 euros so that local volunteers could immediately pack bags of food and deliver them to people who are hungry. Or the Cologne Caritas Association needs mobile tablets for its centers for the elderly, in order to reduce the feeling of social isolation and promote communication with their relatives in times of Corona and the only gradually breaking contact barrier for old people. Now they can Skype with their children and grandchildren. Especially for immobile and bedridden residents, this is an enormously important way of keeping in touch. We supported this initiative with 2.500 euros.
In the parish community of Frechen, we were able to provide 5.525 Euros from the Cardinal Meisner Foundation will help to purchase a motorized cargo tricycle with a box loading area so that a team of volunteers can set up a mobile neighborhood help service. Single seniors or single parents in particular lack a point of contact to register their need for help and support in everyday life. The goal is to reach these people through a mobile neighborhood help service as a charitable church after church services, at parish festivals, at patronal celebrations or at markets, and to mediate when help is needed. The trailer is equipped with a bar table, seats and a parasol. When coffee, pastries and drinks are offered, this creates a low-threshold access to people.
Interviewer: But it is not always only about acquisitions..
Bohme-Barz: Not anyway. Currently we have a request from the university pastoral ministry. Here we ask that students from abroad who are working alongside their studies, but have now lost their temporary jobs or cannot work as student assistants at the moment because of the suspended teaching, be given financial support in the form of a not inconsiderable sum from the Archbishop’s Study Fund, so that they do not have to abandon their studies in Germany. Which, by the way, is a problem that will get worse on a delayed basis in the second half of the year – according to applicants. Here it is still uncertain what will happen with it, because our funds – interest from earmarked bequests – are also limited.
Interviewer: What criteria do you use to decide something like this? And what does the keyword "networking" mean in this context, which you mentioned and which you consider essential for your work??
Bohme-Barz: The board of trustees responsible for this decides on the use of the funds. We prepare these decisions in each case with our specialist departments.As I said, our work is based on relationships, from which we build a network. In other words, people entrust us with their assets so that we can do something meaningful with them in their best interests. Often they carry the desire to establish a foundation within them for years and decades. But a foundation does not fall from the sky. It always has to do with a life story, it is always a matter of the heart. By establishing a foundation, donors give something to society – in gratitude and as a sign of their confidence. In doing so, they create something sustainable and meaningful. Those who have donated are inspired by it. And it is our responsibility to do good with it in their sense. For this, we check exactly where the money goes. Because we know many of the people who place their trust in us personally. And we do not want to disappoint this trust.
It is the same with the many bequests handed over to us, which are almost always earmarked and which we administer in a fiduciary capacity. It is precisely these, together with some donations that we have at our disposal, that enable us to effectively help many people who are now in need through no fault of their own. It alleviates the very greatest need and provides a lot of unexpected relief.
Interviewer: Many people tend to associate "endowment" or "foundation" with a technocratic, notarial process that exclusively concerns economically powerful elites..
Bohme-Barz: A lot of heart and soul goes into a foundation, which is not only possible with a large bank account. Donating is something deeply human, because someone wants to remain alive with an idea beyond his death and can continue to have an effect with his concern. And, as I said, it’s not always about large-scale support, but also about the many, many small-scale aids that often bring great joy in places where you wouldn’t expect it at all.
The Corona crisis is teaching us that it can hit anyone tomorrow – regardless of status, religion, skin color or gender – and that this virus makes us powerless. At the same time, we experience how creative people become in a situation of scarcity, when they are suddenly no longer distracted by anything and become aware anew of their longings – including the longing to keep an eye on others and to work for them. This is a great opportunity: for the church in general, but also for our work at the Foundation Center, with which we can do a lot of good at a time like this. Also and especially because at the moment everyone is reflecting on what is really essential in life.
Interviewer: Make the observation that this involves doing good?
Bohme-Barz: In any case, mercy is part of the genetic programming of human beings. We experience again and again how it inspires people and makes them happy when they open a way out of a dark tunnel for others. Yes, doing good is part of our fundamental mission as Christians. And in view of the Corona pandemic, which nobody knows when it will end, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. After all, the hardship continues – precisely because no one knows for sure whether and how Covid-19 will permanently dominate our daily lives.
The interview was conducted by Beatrice Tomasetti (DR)