PALM HARBOR — It’s no secret local nonprofits are having a hard time raising money and awareness for their causes during the coronavirus crisis.

Enter Palm Harbor Cares, a community giving circle created by Crystal Beach resident Jenny Goad that’s dedicated to helping North Pinellas nonprofits struggling during the pandemic and beyond. In July, Goad presented a $10,000 check to FEAST Food Pantry, marking the group’s first official donation since Goad started the group in June.

According to Goad, the idea for Palm Harbor Cares came from a decade of volunteering for the Junior League and a desire to give back during what’s been a difficult time for everyone.

“Volunteerism is something I’ve always been a part of, and I was looking for the next step, and with the pandemic hitting I felt like it was a perfect time to find a way to be able to give back and support the nonprofits that are struggling right now,” Goad said by phone in late August. “So, I went to women I know who have donated in the past and said, ‘How would you like to choose where the funds go and meet the needs in the community?’ And hands went right up with them asking, ‘How can I help?’”

Goad explained Palm Harbor Cares is currently comprised of 100 members, including a 10-member steering committee, who each contribute a minimum of $100 to the cause. After soliciting applications from qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofits, ones that are in good standing with the IRS and serve North Pinellas County, the steering committee selects three finalists which are then voted on by the rest of the group.

“All members have an equal vote and the one that gets the most votes wins the money,” Goad said, noting the members must sign an agreement allowing Palm Harbor Cares to use the money as directed by the group and that none of the funds are used for expenses. “We want to be good fiduciaries of the funds and we’re helping them make an educated choice how to spend the funds.”

Goad said giving circles like Grapevine, which is advertised as being “like a book club for donating” and does not charge user fees, have grown in popularity in recent years as many people have shied away from giving to large nonprofit organizations.

“Giving circles are about people who work together to give set amounts and they choose who to give to,” she said, adding she believes they provide an ideal method for people to directly impact their community during the pandemic. “We’re committed to giving to local nonprofits because that’s what people want right now — to give back, but to know they’re making an impact with their donation. And right here in North Pinellas, we have people in need.”

Indeed, the FEAST donation provided a critical boost for the Palm Harbor nonprofit.

“The donation we received from Palm Harbor Cares has truly changed our ability to help people in need,” FEAST Executive Director Tamara Black said via email. “We are using the funds to purchase a commercial freezer which will allow us to store perishable items such as milk and meat to provide to our clients. The FEAST family is so very grateful for this generous donation and for the ability to help more families in our community.”

With their first donation in the books, Goad said they’ve started sifting through existing, and soliciting new, applications for their next meeting on Oct. 14. Despite the difficulties associated with the pandemic, she said the group is “exactly where we need to be right now. These people need funds right now and we can do that from home. It’s not the time for a fancy gala.”

Goad noted they have applied for 501(c)(3) status for Palm Harbor Cares, a process that can take up to six months, and she said the group is already planning to expand the circle’s reach.

“We’re looking at starting Businesses Who Care and have an Earth Day event in the spring, and we’re looking at launching Children Who Care in the new year,” she said. “We’re hoping long-term that Palm Harbor Cares evolves into something more. We want to watch it grow and make this area the best it can be. I don’t plan on doing it forever, because these types of organizations aren’t about the people in charge. It’s about the community. I want this to be about the organization, the community and doing what we can to help. I believe the sky’s the limit.”

For more information about Palm Harbor Cares, visit the giving circle’s website at PalmHarborCares.org.