GREENSBORO — Just recently, a few FaithAction International House donors came together to raise the bond of an undocumented worker held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center so that he could come home to his wife and newborn child.
Other donations have allowed domestic violence victims to flee their abusers.
But in the wake of economic turmoil over the new coronovavirus, the pleas for financial help and assistance at the nonprofit doubled in March over the previous month.
Faced with so much need, the Rev. David Fraccaro, FaithAction’s executive director, is turning to the public for help. He says a number of nonprofits in the city could also use the attention, especially those working with the immigrant and refugee community — and he rattled off the names of a half dozen such nonprofits.
Many of their clients are among the numbers of immigrants and refugees who are out of work locally or working reduced hours.
Many won’t qualify for a federal stimulus check meant to provide financial aid amid the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment wages or any other plan to help people out of work, even though they may pay Social Security taxes.
Many do not get food stamps or other social services benefits, although it’s a popular myth that they do, Fraccaro said.
“Times are tough all over, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s especially tough for communities that were already vulnerable,” he said.
The grassroots agency, which has just over a half dozen employees and works with about 3,000 families annually, has a shoestring budget supported by grants but mostly donations from faith groups and others.
FaithAction has built a reputation for its work with community partners ranging from attorneys to other nonprofits, to help immigrants and refugees, including those fleeing genocide in such places as Syria and Sudan. Each year, FaithAction works with people from more than 50 nations on housing issues, health care and other basic needs. Sometimes that means helping them stand up to unscrupulous landlords and other times learning to speak English.
Fraccaro worries about overtaxing those groups and individuals already contributing what they can. One of the ways they solve problems is an emergency fund used in extreme situations.
“We’ve had an emergency fund at FaithAction for the past 2 1/2 years,” Fraccaro said. “We don’t share much about it publicly, but dozens of volunteers have paid the urgent rent, bills, legal and health needs of about 150 families during this time — ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ style.”
The anonymous group of individuals and congregations are part of a special listserve connected to the fund. Fraccaro writes a paragraph about the individual or family and what the money will be used for and posts it for them to see.
“Someone might say, ‘I can do $200’ of the $600 need with others picking up other amounts,’” Fraccaro said.
It’s never a huge amount of money, but it’s the kind of thing that can change somebody’s life.
The agency first works with individuals to solve the problems on their own and there are limits on how often a family can go before that fund, so that it’s not privileging one family over another, Fraccaro said.
The money that is paid out goes directly to the landlord or utility company or the doctor’s office that is tied to the emergency. While legal evictions have been halted and utility bills are being deferred, the worry is in keeping up with the bills now and not having to instead come up with several months of payments later on.
“Which creates another crisis three months down the road,” Fraccaro said.
What the listserve doesn’t pick up, the nonprofit pays from a small pool of discretionary funds that come from donations to the agency.
Fraccaro said he’s already seen community agencies coming together to help each other.
Just the day before, Islamic Relief USA dropped off 30 50-pound bags of rice at FaithAction during its many deliveries around the city to reach those in need. FaithAction has a small food pantry for clients who run out of food.
But Fraccaro said he has also watched as the number of requests for help just to his agency has risen from about 2,000 to 2,500 a month to 4,000 in March, and it looks like it will be about 8,000 for April. He’s thinking some people might be moved to share their stimulus checks to help cover some of the requests for help.
“It’s very clear we are going to see a doubling or quadrupling of those cases,” Fraccaro said.