With the holiday season approaching, and an economy that remains in recession, many families are facing difficult spending decisions. Unfortunately, money for some important preventive or health care expenses, such as dental care for children or routine diagnostic tests and lab services, may not be available.

Our region is fortunate to have nonprofit organizations that are willing to help people in need, and a local foundation that supports their good work.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation of Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BCNEPA) recently awarded $187,940 in health and wellness grants to eight community nonprofits that are assisting those in need in all 13 counties within BCNEPA's service area. The Foundation board also approved its 2009/10 United Way corporate contributions in the amount of $180,000, which will be divided among 14 United Ways.

In 2009, a total of $812,830 has been awarded to education and prevention programs throughout northeastern and north central Pennsylvania whose projects met criteria under one of three grant categories: Health and Wellness Impact Grants, Health and Wellness Access to Care Grants and Health and Wellness Mini-Grants.

"Many people across our service area are feeling the strain of the economy," says Cynthia A. Yevich, executive director of The Blue Ribbon Foundation. "We are privileged to have the resources to help our community partners deliver much needed health services."

Health and Wellness Impact Grants aid programs that address the root causes of specific diseases and health conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity. In this category, The Foundation awarded two 3rd quarter grants totaling $66,490.

Among the grants awarded were The Healthy Smiles, Happy Kids Mobile Dental Van received a $10,000 grant to provide dental services for un- and underinsured youngsters in Carbon County. The van travels to elementary schools throughout the county and provides dental exams, cleaning and sealant services, and restorations to qualified children. The Foundation's grant will enable 200 new children to be visited twice during the coming year.

Health and Wellness Mini-Grants up to $10,000 support projects that focus on healthy families and children. In this category, four 3rd quarter grants totaling $36,450 were awarded.

Pennsylvania Elks Major Projects, Inc. provides special needs adults with health and support services under the guidance of a registered nurse. A $10,000 Foundation grant will support home visitations and medical care coordination for 100 special needs individuals across 13 counties Bradford, Carbon, Clinton, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Monroe, Pike, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming in the coming year.

The funding cycles for The Blue Ribbon Foundation run quarterly. For more information on the funding priorities, application deadlines and eligibility criteria, please visit www.bcnepa.com [1] and click on The Blue Ribbon Foundation tab.