Emergency Response

Clad in a T-shirt that in Spanish reads “No Human Being Is Illegal,” Sac ACT’s Tere Flores Onofre stands in front of the 2324 L Street building, part of which houses the nonprofit’s new office, For now, the office is closed, with its staff working at home during the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Edgar Sanchez

by Edgar Sanchez

When COVID-19 hit greater Sacramento, causing unemployment, hunger and dozens of deaths, one local nonprofit did something about it.

Sacramento Area Congregations Together, or Sac ACT, created a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support low-income families facing financial struggles amid the pandemic. By early May, the fund had nearly $101,500 – which was distributed among roughly 200 families in Sacramento and Yolo counties, with the neediest families receiving $500 each.

“We were hearing from a lot of families that they had lost their jobs, and they weren’t going to be able to pay for rent, food, and utilities,” Tere Flores Onofre, Sac ACT’s director of organizing, said recently. “So we decided to start this fund.”

Sac ACT, an advocate for social justice with the support of The California Endowment (TCE), launched the fund in late March.

By then, its member congregations, representing more than a dozen religions across the community, had transitioned to online religious services. They and other community partners learned about the fund mostly through social media and email.

Donations poured in. The smallest: $8. The largest: much bigger, including a contribution from TCE.

About 340 families applied for grants by an April 3 deadline. Recipients were chosen through computer-assisted lotteries, starting in April and continuing into this month.

“This fund is a blessing,” said Elizabeth, 33, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who received $500 in early April. She applied for help at the urging of her sister-in-law, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.

The grant allowed the mother of three and Juan, her significant other, to help pay their April bills, including $1,000-plus in rent for their Sacramento home.

“We’re going through a very difficult moment,” said Elizabeth, whose full name is being withheld for her privacy.

In mid-March, after the pandemic materialized, Juan, 38, the father of her two youngest children, lost his job installing bathroom appliances. Soon after, Elizabeth, who cleans offices, also became unemployed.

After almost a month without a job, Juan now works one or two days a week in construction. Like Elizabeth, he too is undocumented. Neither qualified for a stimulus check or unemployment benefits.

Yet, despite being “without papers,” Juan pays state/federal taxes when he works. In late April, he received a federal tax refund – enough for May’s rent. The family also receives food from concerned relatives and friends.

While the fund benefited immigrants, regardless of immigration status, it also helped native-born Americans of all races.

Sac ACT is accepting donations for families on a waiting list.

“This fund is a blessing.”

Undocumented immigrant, recipient of $500 emergency grant
To donate to the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, visit sacact.org/donate
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