Before COVID struck and isolation descended, Ed of Arivaca had never needed a financial hand, much less know where to find one if he did.
He’d always had jobs, supported himself. But when his employer started seeing patronage at their business shrink 40 to 60 percent — due largely, they believe, to pandemic isolation — his hours were reduced. That meant less money for rent, electric, water and gas for his car, and walking the several miles to work unless a Good Samaritan offered a ride.
“Luckily, Arivaca is a small town, somebody will pick you up,” he said.
Ed (not his real name) said he squeaked by until a toothache developed that didn’t improve, and help from AHCCCS wasn’t feasible. But he got word that the local non-profit Arivaca Helping Hearts might offer hope.
The organization assists the low-income, unemployed, underemployed, veterans, elderly, families and individuals in Arivaca and Sasabe. As many as 30 percent of the community’s residents live below federal poverty levels, said its treasurer, Beth Lusby.
Helping Hearts received $10,000 from a Southern Arizona fundraising effort to help people like Ed — 25 clients with the first $5,000 and 23 so far with a second $5,000 from the United for Southern Arizona COVID-19 Fund. The donations come from businesses, corporate partners, family funds, endowments and individuals region-wide.
The funds paid for Ed to get two teeth pulled, alleviating what he called “probably the worst pain you ever go through in your life.”
He received help with gas money as well. He needs more dental work and is saving up, hoping his work hours increase again soon.
“If I’m able to work and can pay, somebody else can use it,” he said.
He feels COVID “definitely” played into his needs. “It was really lucky when COVID was peaking that the food bank truck came once a week,” he said.
“(All this) pretty much literally saved me. This is all about helping each other out. Sometimes you get stuck in a corner and don’t know where to turn. They’ve got a big heart. One time they even helped buy tires for my truck. Mine were bald and getting flats. I so appreciate what they do as we struggle in this world,” Ed said.
One of thousands
Ed is among many Southern Arizonans treading water during the pandemic. He and others in Green Valley/Sahuarita with basic needs are appealing to five Green Valley/Sahuarita-area non-profits including Helping Hearts. More than 29,000 people have been helped by the United for Southern Arizona COVID-19 Fund, a regional effort that has raised more than $1.3 million in donations.
Mushrooming COVID numbers, rising challenges for facilities treating them and mask-wearing debates keep commanding news headlines but only tell part of the story.
Requests have involved rental and utility assistance, help with groceries, health supplies, diapers, child care, delivery of essential items and more, Lusby said.
“This (funding) has been a godsend,” she said. “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic our community and clients were hit hard by mainly the loss of employment. People who have not had to ask for help in the past found themselves reaching out to us and the other nonprofits that offer various services, and where we have offered to just help with the payment of bills for our clients, we have now been asked to pay whole bills, so we have more clients with greater expense due to COVID-19.
Without such aid, “we would not have been able to weather the COVID storm.”
Other local non-profits receiving funds are Community Food Bank of Green Valley and Amado, Sahuarita Food Bank and Valley Assistance Services. The COVID-19 Fund 2020, amounting to more than $1.3 million so far, was collected through United Way from nearly three dozen major donors and others.
Funds provided to other regional non-profits may also be providing for needs in Green Valley/Sahuarita.
“Never has need been greater for the most vulnerable in our community,” according to Lisa Floran, senior director, Financial Wellness at United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.
“Children, families and older people who are laid off, unemployed, low-income, homeless, underinsured and struggling to make ends meet are now facing even more hardship.”
More than 150,000 Southern Arizona families and individuals are challenged by work and school closures, wage disruptions and restricted to basic needs, she said.
The funds are distributed to partner agencies such as the five here, and directly help the needy survive during and after the crisis.
Sahuarita Food Bank
The food bank used a $10,000 grant from United Way to purchase milk for food bank patrons, which was exhausted in March, Executive Director Carlos Valles said.
Community Food Bank
Between March and December 2020, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s Green Valley and Amado sites used their United Way grant to help about 2,220 households and 8,125 individuals in Green Valley, and in Amado, 956 households and 3,253 individuals, spokeswoman Norma Cable said.
Green Valley benefited directly from 17 percent of the funding, and indirectly from another 8 percent that funded logistics, operations and other expenses; $18,050 went mostly to CFB’s Kino food distribution and $1,567 to the Food Bank’s Caridad Community Kitchen, Cable said.
Valley Assistance Services
VAS saw a record number of clients during COVID’s early months – at one point, a staggering 1,200 percent more than in the same timeframe the previous year – in its Make-a-Plan Financial Assistance Program, according to a statement from VAS Office and Program Administrator Wes Moulton.
Recipients included a large family with one parent struggling with a progressive, terminal illness and unable to work, and the other, a food-industry worker providing for all. When the pandemic began, the worker’s hours were drastically cut, then a furlough followed. When work resumed, that parent missed nearly a month due to contracting COVID.
Their only car broke down, preventing trips to medical appointments in Tucson, keeping the family isolated. United Way funds paid their rent and utilities until the parent returned to work and is now paying family bills again, Moulton said.
With other funds, VAS provided minor vehicle repairs so they could make medical appointments, helped the family update their SNAP (food stamp) information so they could receive more food stamps, and acquainted them with the local food bank. Albertson’s Foundation provided gift cards for household needs not covered by SNAP, until the father returned to work.
More than a year after his furlough, the family still lives at home and receives medical care. The children have just begun a new school year.
Pima Council on Aging
PCOA has assisted six clients in Green Valley, Sahuarita, Amado and Arivaca who requested help through their office, and 120 county-wide, PCOA president and CEO W. Mark Clark said.
Due to high demand for services this past year, PCOA has spent all (local United Way) funding so relies on the generous support of the community to be able to provide any of these supplemental services for future cases, he said. Those funds were used to support older adults remaining at home and out of institutionalized care during the pandemic, including home repairs and adaptations, and installing phone lines to ensure connectivity with friends and family.
PCOA’s COVID-19 efforts include its Take YOUR Shot outreach to help more people get the COVID-19 vaccine, launched in March and which is currently focused on low-vaccination uptake areas of Tucson’s south and west sides.
Plans are to expand the campaign in coming months to encourage everyone to take their shot. A portion of PCOA’s public media campaign is dedicated to the Green Valley, Sahuarita, Amado, Arivaca and Ajo, Clark said.
For more on the program, go to covid19.pcoa.org or call the vaccine hotline: 520-222-0119. For more about the vaccine: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/keythingstoknow.html