$600,000 in direct cash assistance gives families flexibility in navigating pandemic

In recent months, three organizations have stepped up to provide $600,000 in emergency grants to families in need.

Movement West Michigan, Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area (CFHZ), Community Action House (CAH), and Good Samaritan Ministries (GSM), have spent the past five months coordinating the Greater Holland/Zeeland Area Direct Cash Assistance Program. 

This unique new effort provided $500 in emergency unrestricted cash relief to eligible local individuals who lost their jobs or experienced significantly reduced hours of work due to the COVID-19 crisis. In total, the program provided funds to more than 1,000 neighbors during this time of uncertainty and great need.

Struggling to meet basic needs

The Direct Cash Assistance Program began in the spring, as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were impacting large numbers of people in the greater Holland/Zeeland area. While various federal stimulus bills transferred funds to people who lost their jobs, and to lower- and middle-income families in general, there were people in our community who experienced significant delays in receiving those funds, or simply weren’t eligible to receive any of the public funds. 

Combined with a loss of or reduction in employment, many in our community struggled to meet their basic day-to-day needs. Movement West Michigan, through a connection with the Stand Together Foundation, became aware of the possibility of partnering with a national organization called Family Independence Initiative (FII) to provide unrestricted direct cash assistance payments. 

FII is considered a national leader in providing logistical support for such payments. They also provide a confidential online platform, Up Together, which allows participants to engage with one another, building and sharing social networks to help one another thrive. 

“My first calls were to the Community Foundation, Community Action House, and Good Samaritan Ministries,” says Movement West Michigan Executive Director Lynn Kotecki. 

Best avenue of support

Together, they decided this Direct Cash Assistance Program was going to be one of the best avenues to support those struggling the most. CFHZ deployed $100,000 from the Community Stabilization Fund to establish the program. Generous local donors then supercharged the program, contributing an additional $500,000 for a total cash assistance funding pool of $600,000.

“We were blown away by the deep generosity and trust of the Community Stabilization Fund and the other donors who took this idea that we thought would benefit 300-400 individuals/families and made it possible to invest in more than 1,000 individuals/families,” says Good Samaritan Ministries Executive Director Drew Peirce.

Adds Kotecki: “The Direct Cash Assistance Program was all about investing in our community, sharing hope and dignity, and trusting the participants to be the experts in their own lives. Our motto was, ‘We trust you and we want to invest in you.’ Participants had such a varied array of needs, and the best solution was to engage them with unrestricted cash and let them prioritize how to best address their needs.”

Parameters for receiving funds

Together, CAH, GSM, and Movement West Michigan engaged their individual networks of partner churches/faith-based communities, grassroots organizations, and neighborhood community organizations to extend their reach to as many local families as possible. Eligibility parameters were created to determine who would qualify to receive the $500 cash relief. Those parameters were:
  • Live in the greater Holland/Zeeland area (defined by ZIP codes).
  • Not be claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.
  • Have an annual household income of less than $50,000 in each of the past two years.
  • Have experienced more than a 50% reduction in employment income since March 1, 2020.
  • Have not received federal stimulus funds.
  • Have not received unemployment funds.

Working within those parameters, local nonprofit agencies partnered with more than 1,000
individuals to access the cash transfer. More than 500 individuals participated in the first round of funding (having met all six criteria), and an additional 600 individuals participated in the second round of funding (having met the first four criteria).

“This huge local effort was a critical resource for so many, and we were honored to be a part of this high-trust response by providing direct cash assistance in order to flexibly meet the varied challenges facing so many of our neighbors,” says Community Action House Executive Director Scott Rumpsa.

Meaningful impact

The most common use of funding was to pay rent, cover utility bills, or purchase food. One of the program participants was Sarah, whose full name is being withheld to protect her privacy. The single mother of five children lost her source of income due to the pandemic and was also caring for her terminally ill mother. The Direct Cash Assistance Program helped relieve one of her biggest concerns — paying rent — and allowed her and her children to remain in their home.

“Some people might look at $500 and think it’s not much,” she says. “For our family, it was like looking up to heaven and seeing the floodgates open. These funds meant so much to us.”

Another program participant shared with the foundation how she used some of her direct cash assistance to purchase a birthday cake for her 9-year-old daughter. During a time of significant stress and anxiety, being able to purchase a birthday cake helped the family to feel a sense of dignity, as they were empowered to use the funds in the ways that mattered most for their sense of normalcy and stability.

These are just two of hundreds of stories of how this program meaningfully impacted lives in the community, according to Elizabeth Kidd, CFHZ Vice President of Community Impact.

“We were honored to play a role in the Direct Cash Assistance Program — connecting donors, nonprofit agencies, and participants in a way that emphasized hope and dignity for all involved,” says Kidd. “It’s been so meaningful to hear the stories of impact and trust that this program was a crucial part of helping our neighbors during a challenging time.”

More information about this program can be found at bit.ly/CFHZGrantNews.
 

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.

Shandra Martinez is the managing editor of The Lakeshore WM.
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