The generosity of Moabites revealed itself once again amid the pandemic, as people donated more than $43,000 to the COVID-19 Housing Relief Fund Disbursement Committee, which in turn paid a full month’s rent for some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in the area and those who lost their jobs and were ineligible for any or most of the financial relief that was made available after the virus shut down the global economy.
Jenna Whetzel, the program director for the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah and a member of the committee, said rent averaged $710 per each of the 61 applicants.
She said in a statement, “2020 has been a challenging year for many families and individuals within the Moab community. Health and safety concerns were exacerbated with fears about the ability to pay bills when income was lost due to the coronavirus. To help alleviate financial stress for the most vulnerable members of our community, the Covid-19 Housing Relief Fund was created in early April.”
Members of this disbursement committee include Rhiana Medina, executive director of the Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMC); Kaitlin Myers, senior projects manager for the City of Moab; Mila Dunbar-Irwin, planning and zoning administrator for Grand County; Benjamin Riley, executive director of the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah (HASU); and Rachel Pollock, a housing specialist for HASU.
The mission of the Housing Relief Fund was to provide emergency housing assistance to individuals and families in the Moab area who are experiencing financial hardship caused by the current Coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, said Whetzel. Applicants were evaluated based on a point system, and priority was given to individuals and families who have limited or no access to other types of relief.
The rent relief fund was able to cover an entire month’s worth of rent for everyone awarded funds. “The disbursement committee is grateful to have reduced financial fears for 61 recipients in the Moab area,” said Whetzel. “When asked on the application how funding would affect them, one applicant replied, “I think that my kids would be better emotionally, we wouldn’t feel so heavy with worry about the bills we can’t pay. It would be a huge help, financially and emotionally not just for me but my family. It would be a great blessing.”
Another applicant said the rent relief would help, “A thousand times. I went through a hard time last year because I was diagnosed with a lymphoma cancer. I barely finished my treatment and started working, when COVID-19 hit us.”
“Members of the disbursement committee would like to extend a very hearty ‘thank you!’ to the 82 individuals and groups who donated to the fund, which raised $43,335.48. The committee would like to give a special thank you to Moonflower Cooperative, which held a “Round Up at the Register,” special that raised $1,500; Dave Bierschied, who raised $6,000 through a birthday fundraiser; and Bob Greenberg, who gathered bipartisan support for the fundraising effort.
The disbursement committee distributed five rounds of funding starting on May 6 when $9,220 was awarded followed by May 26, $7,574; June 8, $12,903; June 24, $7,735; and July 17, $4,610.
Donations to the fund have declined in recent weeks and the disbursement committee has decided to disband for now, said Whetzel. “The committee has agreed that if the need for a housing relief fund arises again in our community, we will once more raise money and disburse it in a meaningful way. Moab is a very charitable community. Thank you again to our generous donors.”