Within 24 hours after the usually quiet town of Uvalde was shaken to its core following a devastating school shooting, the San Antonio Area Foundation had set up a trusted process for donors to direct their contributions of compassion.

“It’s hard to believe it has been a year,” said Lisa Brunsvold, Vice President of Marketing and Development for the Area Foundation, when recalling May 24, 2022 – the day that the killing of 19 elementary school students and two teachers touched people around the country and the world.

By that evening, the National Compassion Fund (NCF) – an organization that aids communities in the equitable distribution of funds to victims’ families and survivors after mass casualty shootings – had reached out to the Area Foundation. The next morning, a team was formed to put everything in place and start getting the word out. 

Not long after, calls started pouring in from community foundations and other nonprofits in cities that had dealt with their own mass shootings in recent years to provide advice and support on what needed to be done.

The Area Foundation also quickly partnered with the Kerrville-based Community Foundation of the Hill Country, which covers Uvalde County, to establish the Uvalde Strong Survivors Fund and the Uvalde Strong Fund.

“Immediately, we were receiving donations from all over the country,” Brunsvold recalled. As the shock of the situation reverberated through the team, she said they found solace in “becoming very task-oriented: “We have to secure those dollars because that’s how we can help. (The money raised) is not meant to be reparations; it’s a way for people to express their compassion and support.”

The thousands of individual donations large and small came from everyday people and from collective efforts such as a Dallas Girl Scout troop, a San Francisco pre-school, and a Big Band jazz concert fundraiser in El Paso. 

New York teenager Mariano Schwartz sent 11 donations totaling nearly $3,000 as he played piano gigs on behalf of the Uvalde children, teachers and families for 21 days in a row.

Heartfelt expressions poured in alongside the donations for the survivor fund.

“I really have no words. I just hope my humble donation will help,” wrote Merlyn Schultz. “As the mother of a child their age, I have experienced great sorrow in this tragedy, and I will never forget room 112 and all of those beautiful children. Our future scientists, political leaders, and future. Period”

Robert Garcia, a San Antonio native living in Florida, chimed in: “I feel your pain across the miles.”

Donations to the Uvalde Strong Survivors Fund came from all 50 states, the U.S. territory of Guam and as far as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Great Britain, Israel, Italy and Hong Kong. 

A total of 2,200 donations totaling $1.7 million were gathered before the fund was closed in October 2022 so help could be sent to families of victims and surviving children in partnership with NCF.

The Virginia-based nonprofit helps manage survivor and victim funds around the country, including Buffalo, Las Vegas and Santa Fe, Texas. While trusted organizations like the Area Foundation collect the donations, NCF works with local government officials and community members to create a transparent method of getting the money into the right hands, explained NCF Executive Director Jeffrey Dion.

Partnering immediately with the Area Foundation was an important part of the process, Dion said, “because everyone is quick to collect money, but they don’t know how they are going to give it out. We need people to buy into the process up front.”

The needs of the community, however, don’t end with an anniversary of an event.

The Uvalde Strong Fund, which is designated for nonprofits providing ongoing services in the community, is still accepting donations as long-term needs such as mental health care continue for years after this type of tragedy.

In the first year, the Uvalde Strong Fund received roughly $1.69 million from 499 individuals, including a number of charitable organizations from all across the country. So far, nearly $500,000 has been granted to nonprofits that provide school programs, mental health services and family support in Uvalde.

The Area Foundation is now looking at needs in the second and third years after the violence and is still taking donations and making new grants.

Patricia Mejia, the Area Foundation’s Vice President of Community Engagement and Impact, said that Marian Sokol, CEO of the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, told her the long process of grief means nonprofits helping with healing can run out of funds even as needs evolve.

“She told me that what looked like solutions on May 26, 2022, would not look like solutions on May 26, 2024,” Mejia recalled. “Grieving doesn’t look the same for everyone and we wanted to make sure our funding provides an outlet for everyone.”

Some of the funded programs include play therapy, providing support in classrooms and the healing that comes through the arts such as local poets and musicians presenting at the Uvalde library.

Communities in Schools expanded into Uvalde quickly to provide individual assistance for students in need during summer school. By the time the regular school year had started, grants from the Area Foundation allowed them to put a full-scale program in place.

“We are thankful for the trust to do what we have been doing for years,” said Jessica Weaver, President and CEO of Communities in Schools-San Antonio.  “I’m grateful to our funding community that has allowed us to have a presence year-round.” In addition, family engagement activities, taking students to the McNay Art Museum and a trip for Uvalde High School students to tour the Texas A&M campus in College Station were made possible thanks to Area Foundation support.

AVANCE San Antonio, which has Early Head Start and Head Start pre-school child development programs in Uvalde, is another Uvalde Strong Fund grantee.

Area Foundation grant funding helped provide better communications technology to link the portable buildings used for classes, counseling services and to help pay for a security guard for peace of mind, said Jose Salinas, AVANCE’s project manager in Uvalde.

With the experience of the past year, the Area Foundation is now the one being tapped as the go-to expert for advice from other communities sadly also experiencing deadly tragedies.

The Area Foundation is sharing lessons learned and building on the confidence earned from the donor community in the process.

“What a statement it is to the integrity of our organization that people trust us with their expression of grief,” said Brunsvold. “It’s an experience we’ll never forget.”

Travis Poling is a member of the San Antonio Area Foundation’s Storytelling Ambassador Contributor Network.