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NewsChannel 5 investigation finds the Community Foundation has no idea how millions in 2020 tornado relief money was spent

Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
March 2020 tornadoes
Amy Fair, Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Jennifer Kraus interviews Amy Fair, Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Posted at 4:09 PM, Jun 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-14 19:18:25-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A NewsChannel 5 investigation is raising some serious questions about how the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee managed all of the money that poured in after the March 2020 tornadoes.

In all, more than $12.5 million was raised.

NewsChannel 5 along with all of the other media outlets in town encouraged people to give to help their neighbors in need.

And while the Community Foundation has a contract with Metro Nashville to collect donations and distribute that money after disasters, it's also supposed to keep track of what happens to it.

But when we asked how the millions of dollars were used to help tornado victims, we were surprised to learn the Community Foundation has no idea.

More than two years ago, tornadoes slammed into Davidson, Wilson and Putnam Counties. It was March 3, 2020. Soon after, people began donating to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

"Somebody would come and drop off change that a classroom delivered. The Titans gave $1 million," Amy Fair with the Community Foundation recalled.

The Community Foundation ended up collecting more than $12.5 million dollars for tornado relief. Not all of that money has been given out, but of what was, believe it or not, the Community Foundation doesn't know how it was spent or even if it was spent.

"Are we perfect? Perhaps not. But, there’s been a lot going on between March 2020 and now," Fair said.

Fair oversees disaster relief at the Community Foundation.

"And you don’t have a handle on how or even if all of it was spent?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"We are still in recovery. We are still, we are not complete," Fair said.

After the tornadoes, the Community Foundation was supposed to have local nonprofits apply for grants. But it didn't.

Instead, Fair said they did what they had to to get money out as quickly as possible.

"So initially, you just sent out money to organizations that didn’t necessarily ask for money?" we asked.

"Right, absolutely," she answered.

The Community Foundation gave more than $1.5 million to dozens of organizations, each one getting $30,000. Again, there was no application required.

"And they (the organizations) never asked for that money?" we wanted to confirm.

"Correct," Fair said.

Fair explained that those that received money had experience in disaster relief or had worked with the Community Foundation in the past or simply had been in the news for their tornado relief work.

"And then for organizations that received one grant, we’d say, 'Hey if you run out of money, if you distribute at all, please come back to us and we will just ask you what you did with the first batch and we will give you more,'" Fair said.

Out of the $12.5 million the Community Foundation took in after the March 2020 tornadoes, it has given out about two-thirds of it or just over $8 million for tornado relief.

"So you believe that you accurately tracked all of the money that went out?" we asked Fair.

"Yes," she replied.

But that's not what our investigation found.

"So they sent you a $30,000 check?" we asked Metro Schools' spokesman Sean Braisted.

"Yeah," he answered.

The Community Foundation sent Metro Schools and its Community Achieves program one of those $30,000 checks.

"Did Community Achieves or MNPS ask for this money?" we inquired.

"We didn't apply for any grants," Braisted told us.

He went on to explain that Metro Schools deposited the check, but no one with Community Achieves knew it was there until we recently asked about it.

So we took this to Amy Fair with the Community Foundation: "There was $30,000 that's sat in a bank account for the last two years, untouched and used, not helping the tornado victims?"

"Well, I would say that is true and they will send it back if they’re not able to use it for the tornado. But we certainly had money that was usable with us. So it’s not as though we spent everything and we’re like, 'Oh no! We need that $30,000 back,'" Fair said.

Today, 21st Avenue North near Formosa looks nothing like it did right after the tornadoes. And while it's hard to tell now that there was so much devastation and destruction in some of the hardest-hit areas, it's also hard to tell just where all of that tornado relief money went.

According to the Community Foundation's own website, grant recipients were supposed to provide "periodic reports" or regular updates to the Foundation until the money was gone.

"So you expected written reports or verbal reports?" we asked Fair.

"Yes," she answered.

"From all of these recipients?" we continued.

"Yes."

"And what if an organization didn’t give a report?" we wondered.

"We would follow up with them," Fair stated.

"Did you get information from all of the organizations?"

Fair replied, "I would say yes."

But remember that $30,000 sent to Metro Schools?

Nowhere in the letter from the Community Foundation sent along with that check does it say that any sort of report is required.

And, we asked MNPS spokesman Braisted, "Did you all submit any reports?"

"Oh, well we didn’t know about the grant so no, there was no, there was no reporting from our end," Braisted explained.

So we then asked Braisted, "And was there any follow up from the Community Foundation saying, 'Where are your reports?'"

Braisted answered, "To my knowledge, the first time we have talked (with the Community Foundation) about the donation to Community Achieves was at the time after you reached out and we talked with them."

We took this information back to Amy Fair.

"So how can you say you were accurately tracking the money and following up, when you didn’t do this with MNPS?" we asked her.

She paused and then said, "Umm, we will be sure that we get information at the end."

We continued, "How many other MNPS’s are there out there?"

"I don’t know. I can’t say for sure. But we will know in the end," she replied.

"You don’t know how many other recipients of grants got money and didn’t use it?" we asked.

"I know of many, but I don’t have the final final reports from everyone," Fair told us.

Fair said she plans to put together a final report sometime later this year and she will ask all of the groups that got money how they spent it.

Metro Schools meanwhile says their Community Achieves program has identified families who were affected by the tornadoes who still need help and they are using their money now to support them.

It is worth mentioning the Community Foundation says it does not take any money or administrative fees to run the disaster relief program for Metro.

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NewsChannel 5 Investigates What Happened To The Millions Donated After the 2020 Tornadoes