PHAB’s Center for Innovation and the Center for Sharing Public Health Services (CSPHS) are supporting 10 collaborations’ implementation efforts of innovative multi-sector partnerships between governmental public health, healthcare, and social service organizations, along with the engagement of their communities, with the ultimate goal of aligning the three sectors’ work to improve population health, well-being, and equity for all. Collaboration and alignment efforts are underway while the grantees are in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic and as they determine how best to work together, how their systems can and are supporting them, and how to continue to focus on equity.

From agencies offering mini-grants directly to community members with local ideas and solutions to improve mental well-being and housing stability to agencies stepping in to assist food banks and restaurants with meal delivery, cross-sector partnerships are especially important now, with many relying on each other to meet the needs of all communities impacted by the pandemic. In this blog series, stories of innovative approaches to address needs unearthed by the COVID-19 pandemic will be shared in the hopes that other communities can learn from and possibly replicate those efforts.


In response to community priorities on mental well-being and housing stability as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, individuals or small teams living in Hennepin County, Minnesota, who had local ideas and solutions in their communities and who needed a small amount of money to carry them out, were invited to apply for mini-grants. The program strongly encouraged people representing communities of color or indigenous populations to apply – a combination of challenges caused by the pandemic, the recommended protocols of social distancing and isolation, and the closure of many services and business have added stress to the trauma already experienced by many communities, particularly those of color. The Hennepin County Public Health Department crowdsourced ideas from community members, knowing that the best ideas and solutions come from those within the community. Eight projects were chosen through a review process by community members and Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) stakeholders.

Program Development

Community members living in Hennepin County were invited to apply for a mini-grant of $250 to $500 to address COVID-19 and a total of $2,500 was originally available. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, projects were required to create a virtual or other creative engagement plan that was safe and protected participants and organizers. Word went out through CHIP partner networks and individuals submitted their applications by e-mail. Each proposal was reviewed by two people, with reviewers representing different cultural, spiritual, ethnic, and geographic groups within the county. The mini-grant program benefited from the broad backgrounds of reviewers with information and insight about their communities.

After an initial review and independent scoring process of each application, a two-hour meeting was held over video conference for discussion and review of each application. Reviewers then completed a final scoring process for each application and scores were combined and tallied, resulting in eight projects being funding. The Cross-sector Innovation Initiative leadership team from the Hennepin County Public Health Department approved an increase in total funding to $3,000 to match urgent community needs.


Forty applications were received for the mini-grants and all the ideas, solutions, and social distancing protocols proposed are already helping inform another request for proposals occurring in the fall. The CSII mini grants total $3,000 and the projects they fund will support diverse communities in Hennepin County, including Native American, African, African American, Asian, low-income renters, youth, elders, East and South Minneapolis, Hopkins, and Brooklyn Park. Many of these communities have been disproportionality affected by the pandemic.

CSII-funded mini grant projects include:

  • Africa, let’s talk: A two-series community podcast with a physician and a psychologist.
  • Asian American Healing Series: Virtual healing event led by Asian American healers.
  • Intergenerational COVID-19 response from Little Earth: Mask making sessions for Little Earth youth and elders, and Facebook live sessions about masks.
  • Peace in the valley: A family event at a housing complex with masks and hotdogs for kids, drawings for adults, and a survey to learn how COVID-19 is affecting residents.
  • Project protect and play: Info and items to encourage East African families to engage in play.
  • Self-care packages for Dow Tower: Self-care packages for adults and individuals with disabilities in low-income public housing.
  • Stay at home stay safe bingoBingo games for socially isolated Native American elders.
  • Summer learning kits: Distribution of summer learning kits at Sabathani Community Center.

Other innovative ideas from applicants included hosting concerts for local Latinx communities and Africans (two separate proposals), playing virtual games in several communities (again, separate proposals), doing a poetry slam, and various youth/adult arts programs.

It is hoped that the impact of these mini-grants will stretch across not only communities impacted by COVID-19, but also those who are affected by and feel the effects of systemic racism every day, which has been made very real by the murder and ensuing protests after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.


Throughout the review and scoring of the projects, the Hennepin County Public Health Department learned that the application needs to be revised before the next round of funding is publicized. Not all applicants answered the questions appropriately in order to make decisions about which projects to fund, which was most likely a result of the phrasing of questions. In addition, the review process was difficult in many ways as it was time consuming to review, discuss, and make decisions about the applications. The process was also hindered for some due to the timing of this program with George Floyd’s murder and the resulting uprisings and large Black Lives Matter protests in the Twin Cities and around the world. This directly influenced the review process for several reviewers who were involved in the protests and increased the considerations of communities who might benefit the most from these grants. Finally, there was a lot of pressure to prioritize the right projects and to fund those who need it most, while also recognizing great ideas, solutions, and people who are passionate about their communities.

Lessons Learned

The Hennepin County Public Health Department learned through this first round of mini-grants that there is a further need for funding in the community – over $19,000 worth of grant money was requested, with only $3,000 available. This process also helped identify needs in the community that can be filled by community members themselves if they had access to more resources, including grants like this.

Call to Action

Do you have a COVID-19 innovation story or message to share? PHAB’s Center for Innovation would like to hear about your efforts! Specifically:

  • We are looking for stories about health departments working innovatively with communities to address COVID-19.
  • We are looking for messages that have worked for you about the role and value of public health and health departments now and into the future.

Complete this form to share a story and/or messages, including any applicable images and videos. Relevant stories will be posted to our website and shared through PHAB’s communication mechanisms. Messages will be grouped together and shared as a crowd-sourced message map.