CHATHAM – “Sadly, we're cranking away.”
Stephen Daniel, co-founder of the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund, was speaking about the continuation of the fund begun in April to help local residents under financial stress due to the pandemic. While there was no big spike after enhanced unemployment benefits ran out, there also hasn't been a significant drop in the amount of assistance the fund has been providing.
“Sadly, the beat goes on,” Daniel said.
The fund raised more than $500,000 to provide help with rent, mortgages, utility bills and other dire financial needs. It has also been providing assistance to the elementary school food pantry, which saw a huge spike in demand over the summer. As of last Friday, the fund had expended $233,663, helping some 1,221 residents.
Most months, assistance has been in the $24,000 to $36,000 range, with the exception of June, when $82,000 was distributed. Demand at the school's pantry also rose sharply in August, from 185 individuals to 385 people.
“There's a lot of need out there,” said Daniel. “We're grateful to the community for being in a position to try to help abate it.”
The need could increase as the season tapers off and some businesses curtail hours or close, especially with no sign of any additional help coming from the federal government. Daniel said the school pantry has already seen people in need who are usually financially OK in the summer, such as landscapers and restaurant workers.
He's also concerned that the fund is not reaching many people who need help. He's working on a survey to try to get a better picture of what's going on in town economically, such as business survivability, as well as learning more about food security and other needs.
The fund was slated to shut down at the end of the year, but organizers left open the possibility of continuing for an additional six months. It seems clearer all the time that will have to happen, Daniel said.
“At some point we'll run out of gas,” he said. “We're halfway there.” He'd also like to have discussions with the town about support it might provide. “If we can get through this year and the early part of next year, we'll see what happens then.”
The fund works through Lower Cape Outreach Services, which vets applicants, and Monomoy Community Services, which is handling financial and other details.