Direct Relief: The Next Front in the Fight against COVID-19

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When the economy takes a downturn, Wayne Tyre knows. Tyre is the director of our Resource Center, a one-stop shop for assistance with government benefits, health insurance, food aid, legal assistance and more. Since the Coronavirus hit, his phones have been ringing off the hook.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in volume,” said Tyre. “We’re seeing an increase in people needing food. We have an inordinate number of people applying for health benefits”—usually because they’ve lost their coverage along with their job.

Anxieties are running high, Tyre notes. Not only are people worried about how to survive; they don’t like asking for help.

“Some of them never received government benefits before. Most are uncomfortable saying they need the service. So we’re doing a lot of therapy in addition to helping them secure the benefits they need.”

With members of our community facing needs on so many fronts, Goddard Riverside has launched a new direct relief effort to help people stay afloat. Using money we’ve raised from foundations and private donors, we’re offering small grants to help cover immediate necessities.

“The overall goal is to provide short term temporary relief to people who are experiencing financial crisis due to COVID-19,” explained Susan Matloff-Nieves, who oversees our youth and aging programs. “We know a lot of people we serve are already on a very thin margin.”

Applicants for aid must be participants in Goddard programs or residents of the public housing complexes we partner with. Applications are filed by Goddard staff. Each one is screened and the aid is paid directly to the creditors or providers rather than to the person applying. The expenses must be ineligible for other kinds of help such as government programs.

“We’ve had requests for help with cellphone bills and food assistance,” said Matloff-Nieves. “We have people who’ve lost jobs and haven’t gotten unemployment, either because it’s delayed or because they were woking off the books. And then there are things that aren’t covered by SNAP that are really necessities, like diapers and sanitary napkins and laundry soap.”

Technology that students need to do their schoolwork, such as laptops, tablets and headphones, may also be covered.

A one-time grant can only do so much, especially in Manhattan—the most expensive place to live in the U.S., according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. But we hope to help people deal with immediate needs and support them to marshal more resources for the future.

“Where we can, we refer people to other sources of help,” said Matloff-Nieves. That includes our own Resource Center and the case managers at our programs.

Servia Montero, one of the first grant recipients, secured several hundred dollars for rent and groceries. Montero is an older adult with a chronic health condition, but she says she’s never had to rely on any kind of assistance. Now she can’t work due to the partial shutdown of the economy.

“I’m grateful that organizations like Goddard have taken upon themselves to provide the much needed relief that would otherwise have never reached my hands,” she said.