For many years Ecumenical Hunger Program (EHP) offered a modest financial assistance program to low-income families requesting help with paying for an unexpected bill or emergency. When COVID-19 hit our community, the need for financial assistance skyrocketed due to loss of employment and/or illness. Our families barely had time to recover before rising inflation made living in our community almost impossible with some falling into deeper and deeper debt. What could EHP do for these families?
During this time, our generous donors gave more than what could be spent due to pandemic related operational limitations. This surplus would be key to the solution. What if these families had a support system that could sustain them long enough to truly make a difference? Not just a shot in the arm, to pay the gas bill this month, but enough support to set them on the road to self-sufficiency. Would these families succeed?
In July, EHP announced a special $2 million fund which would provide direct assistance to local families in need for the next two years and the creation of the Family Sustainability Fund. This new fund, an all-inclusive support program, would help selected families over the course of several months reduce debt and increase income through modest financial assistance combined with budget planning, employment and financial counseling, and referrals to other agencies that specialized in affordable housing, childcare, and government aid.
We recognized that providing financial assistance alone without providing the tools to become financially stable had the potential to lead to dependency instead of self-reliance. Now, in its fourth month, we are already seeing positive changes in our five inaugural FSF recipients. They have all significantly reduced their credit card debt, two have found new employment while another is working to revive his business which suffered greatly during the pandemic. Additionally, one of our families will be moving from a cramped apartment into an affordable-income three-bedroom house later this month.
EHP is one of the beneficiaries of The Almanac's Holiday Fund. Donations are divided equally among this year's 10 nonprofit organizations and 100% of the funds raised go directly to the recipients. Donations to the Holiday Fund can be made at almanacnews.com/holiday_fund.
A fund recipient wrote about what this new EHP lifeline would mean for her family, saying: "I grew up in an abusive household where I witnessed my father abuse my mother. After my father was gone, my mother was not very present, and we were constantly struggling to make ends meet. Times were always hard, and it was harder not having supportive parents to get me through those tough times. Despite all the hardships I went through in my childhood, I made sure to stay on top of my grades because I saw school as my only way out. I felt like I needed to escape from my family and my circumstances and that was how I was going to do it."
She wrote that she was able to graduate from San Jose State University's Lucas College of Business with a degree in business administration with a 3.0 GPA. "This was a huge accomplishment that I will carry with me for a lifetime," she wrote. "Starting from the ground up has been hard, especially after having a son shortly after I graduated college. I've been a single mom since he was born and have had no help. Living in a place with one of the highest costs of living has been hard to say the least. Because I'm on my own, I'm often living paycheck to paycheck, now even more because of the rising costs for everything from groceries to rent and PG&E. When I don't have enough cash, I use my credit cards which have added to my overall debt. I currently have $50,000 in outstanding federal student loans, and around $7,000 in credit card debt," she wrote.
"I dream to be a homeowner some day and give my son the life I never had even if I have to do it all on my own. However, with piling debt and no real way out it has been hard to see the bright future I've always dreamed of. I appreciate any help you could offer as it would greatly change my life's trajectory and allow me to get on a path to being the woman and mother I've always dreamed of being."