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Newton’s COVID-19 Care Fund helps out residents at their time of need

Newton’s COVID-19 Care Fund has started distributing funds to those financially impacted by the pandemic. As of June 3, the Care Fund had raised over $700,000 and granted $492,000 of emergency assistance to 253 qualified households.

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said she appreciated all who helped make the Care Fund possible.

“On behalf of our residents, I am deeply grateful to all who have stepped up in this time of need to lead, administer or donate to the Newton COVID-19 Care Fund at a time our city needed it most,” Fuller said in an e-mailed statement.

As of June 1, Robert Gifford, the chair of the Newton Fundraising Committee, said Family ACCESS received about 400 applications to assist qualified households. The Care Fund was not limited to one-time distribution, and some reapplied.

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Family ACCESS is in charge of the application process and the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley collects the donations. The Fund was established on March 20 as a collaboration among Newton community leaders to provide short-term emergency relief to help those financially burdened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fund provides need-based grants of up to $2,500 for each qualifying household, and the current average distribution is $1,608.

Gifford said the Fund does not go directly to the applicant, but rather to pay the bill and support basic expenses including rent, utilities, health insurance, funeral costs, and childcare.

He kept a record of the thank you notes from households who were dealing with issues including unemployment, unaffordable rental costs, health issues, risk of loss of petition, and inability to afford food.

During a phone interview, Gifford read one of the e-mailed thank you letters: “On March 13th, I lost my part-time job due to the Coronavirus. My rent is very expensive and my small social security check does not even cover it. I was feeling very anxious about both my rent and a current medical bill.”

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Karen Seniuk, director of Counseling and Consulting Services for Family ACCESS, said “Most applicants who are applying for rent, have been able to get at least one month covered.”

Seniuk noted how the Fund not only benefits the applicants but also indirectly helps those close to them such as employers and landlords.

She said many choose to live in Newton because it is a good community for families and has many opportunities, but “to do so, everything has to go well for them financially.”

“When one piece of that carefully constructed system falls down, the whole family is in significant financial trouble,” Seniuk said in an e-mail.

Seniuk said, “We have been trying our best to accommodate everyone to the best of our ability.”

In some cases, Family ACCESS called landlords directly for details to help tenants, and the organization had staff members to guide Spanish and Portuguese speakers. Seniuk said, “if people don’t have access to a computer, they can text us their information, using their phone to take photos and send to us.”

Seniuk said the Fund “shows that there is a compassion that the community has for each other.”

“Many people receiving funds have expressed how appreciative they are to live in this community where there is such generosity.”

Gifford said they raised more money than expected, and “people have been incredibly generous.”

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“We feel great that we were able to jump in the early stages of the crisis and other groups have been stepping in,” he said.

Gifford said they received over 1,000 donations from corporations, nonprofits, and individuals, most of whom live in Newton. The Newton COVID-19 Care Fund site will continue to take donations until June 30.

Patience Berkman, president of the Rebecca Pomroy Foundation, a Newton organization which donated to the Fund, said Guy Moss, head of the Finance Committee for the Foundation, brought the Fund to the board’s attention, and “it just seemed to resonate completely with our mission in terms of financial assistance to people in need.”

Berkman said one of the reasons for the Pomroy Foundation’s interest in allocating money to the Care Fund was the Foundation’s history with Family ACCESS.

“They have very experienced social workers, very well trained and experienced staff,” Berkman said.

Susan Paley, vice president of Community Relations for the Village Bank, said it did not raise money specifically for the COVID-19 Care Fund but saw an opportunity to quickly “reach those individuals desperately seeking assistance.”

“It is part of who we are to support our community,” Paley said in an e-mail. “It wasn’t really a choice for us: we believe that pitching in is a part of doing business and being a responsible community partner, so the decision to contribute to the Fund came naturally.”

The Newton Cantonese School also donated money to the Fund after the board approved giving out of the school’s rainy-day account.

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Jason Chow, a School board member, said in an e-mail, “We felt it was most efficient that NCS make an immediate donation, and then we also asked our NCS families to contribute directly to the Fund’s website of what they can afford.”

Jim Comber, the director of marketing for Garden Remedies, a Concord-based cannabis company with a location in Newton, said founder Karen Munkacy proposed donating money to the Care Fund, and the board and leadership team agreed to contribute.

“We hope it helps families and people that have suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Comber said. “We just wanted to give back to the community.”

Seniuk said the Fund has been helpful, but it is still a “band-aid.”

“For most applicants, it is not enough, though it is definitely helpful and meaningful.”

To donate to the Newton COVID-19 Care Fund through June 30: unitedwaymassbay.org/covid-19/local-funds/newton/.

If you have already applied and you have questions about your application status, please contact your individual Family ACCESS caseworker or email: NCFreferrals@familyaccess.org

Inyeong Kim and Kelsey Lu can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.