‘Solidarity Fund’ aids nearly 200 Chatham families

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SILER CITY – The Chatham Solidarity Fund has finished distributing $177,300 among 197 Chatham County families who didn’t qualify for coronavirus stimulus checks because of immigration status.

The fund, created in April by seven community organizations, began delivering the money to successful applicants on June 6, over two weeks after fund administrators stopped accepting applications. Each family received a $900 check or money order.

“On behalf of my family, I want to thank everyone for helping us through this difficult moment,” one recipient wrote in an email to the Hispanic Liaison, the nonprofit administering the fund. “We were behind on our bills because my husband and I have been unemployed since mid-March because of COVID-19. Thank you so much for this donation to help us pay our bills.”

Federal and state laws disqualify undocumented residents from receiving coronavirus stimulus checks and unemployment benefits. To ensure “no family is left behind,” the Solidarity Fund raised money over two months for families with mixed immigration status who were financially devastated by COVID-19.

The fund raised nearly $200,000 and received 225 applicants. Qualified families had to meet several basic criteria: financial harm caused by COVID-19, and ineligibility for government aid because of immigration status.

Though most applicants qualified, some did not because family members submitted incomplete applications, said Anna Tuell, the developmental director for Chatham’s Habitat for Humanity, one of the fund’s partner organizations.

Other disqualified applicants included households where at least one person received a stimulus check or unemployment benefits. Because the fund didn’t raise enough money to serve all applicants, Tuell said the selection committee had to “put (those households) at the bottom of the list” to ensure equitable distribution.

“We wanted to help as many people as we could,” she said. “But we also didn’t want to give everyone such a small amount of money that it wasn’t going to make a difference.”

Applications also screened for Chatham County residents, but Ilana Dubester, the executive director of the Hispanic Liaison, said they recently extended the fund’s reach to surrounding counties now that applications have been closed and fundraising efforts have stopped.

“We went through all the Chathamites that were qualified plus the ones that ended up in the waiting list,” Dubester said. “Everybody that qualified from Chatham got funded, and of the 197, there is one family from Lee County.”

Some money remains, but Dubester said they will only distribute these funds to the qualifying families their partner agencies refer to the Hispanic Liaison, since not much is left.

“There’s enough funds for maybe 13 families, and there are about five on our list to call right now,” she said. “There is not an open application process, meaning the public cannot just go and apply. It’s closed. It’s by referral only and only until the money is gone.”

Dubester told the News + Record she was pleased at “the amazing amount of response from the donors.” More than 600 donors — many from Chatham — contributed funds, and Dubester said the average donation was $340.

“Some gave their entire stimulus check,” she said. “Many gave much more than that, and there was also a tremendous response from foundations.”

The Triangle Community Foundation — which serves four counties, Chatham included — contributed $14,200 to the Solidarity Fund as part of its COVID-19 response funding. The foundation also spread the word to their donor families, who gave another $20,000 through the foundation’s donor-advised funds.

Jessica Aylor, the foundation’s vice president of community engagement, said contributing to the Chatham Solidarity Fund was “compelling” because the funds would help families directly.

“(The Solidarity Fund) was going to allow them to use the funding how they needed because it’s different for each family,” she said. “So they could determine whether they needed it for food or rent or medication or whatever.”

Beyond providing immediate relief, Aylor said she hopes funds like these will allow people to see their communities differently.

“I think COVID has just illuminated and deepened these inequities that already existed in our community,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, but these funds are addressing an immediate need.”

Tuell said the Solidarity Fund partners’ “pie-in-the-sky dream” was to raise $360,000 and provide all applicants the same amount they would have received from federal stimulus checks.

Even though they didn’t achieve that, Tuell said she was pleased with the fund’s results.

“We did a pretty good job,” she said. “We were able to give (197) families a $900 check, and I really hope that will help people make it through. I think we did lot. We could always do more, but I think we did a lot.”

Victoria Johnson is the lead reporter for the News + Record’s Facebook Journalism Project grant and is reporting on COVID-19’s impact on Chatham’s Latinx community. She can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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