Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry aids the Columbus community impacted by COVID-19 with rent and utility aid through their Direct Service program.
Martha Robert is the executive director of Chattahoochee Valley Episcopal Ministry, or CVEM. CVEM is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that focuses on outreach ministry through their three main programs: the Thompson-Pound Arts Program, InFusion, and the Direct Service program.
Direct Service is CVEM’s main program that aims to give financial aid to those in need of rent and utility assistance and connect families with other organizations that can further assist them. The volunteers at CVEM offer a listening ear and compassionate heart to the families seeking help. In addition to rent and utility assistance, CVEM also aids families in getting driver’s licenses, copies of birth certificates, and education certifications.
“Up until this year, the standard assistance was $75, which obviously doesn’t pay anyone’s monthly rent, or necessarily a utility bill or car insurance or something like that. But part of what we did in conjunction with offering whatever we could help pay with was to connect people to other sources of financial assistance,” Robert said.
CVEM assists on average 30 families a month, but the number has fluctuated due to COVID-19. In the month of April, Robert said they assisted 60 families. She said that families who have never needed assistance before are now coming to CVEM for help. Both middle- and low-income families are facing unemployment and applying for aid.
“We’re getting a lot of folks who have never had to ask for assistance before. They’ve always been able to pay their bills and then we’re also getting people who would be classified low income. And when you’re low-income, if you don’t have a good network of family and friends to help in times, like when the car breaks down, or when somebody’s sick, you can’t go to work,” Robert said.
To promote the health and safety of both the families and volunteers, CVEM has moved from doing in-person interviews to phone interviews.
“March 16 was the first day that CVM was closed, we had to close to the public, and we had to overnight practically transition from having done in-person interviews to telephone interviews. And we found the need has increased, so dramatically because of the pandemic,” Robert said.
CVEM found they can help more families per month doing phone interviews than in-person interviews.
The annual budget for CVEM aid is $40,000. As of July, CVEM has spent $33,800 on assistance to Columbus families. Over three-quarters of their yearly budget has been spent in half a year. Roberts said that she has applied and received additional funding for rent, utilities, and basic needs. By the end of 2020, she hopes to spend $85,000 on Direct Service.
One worry that many families have concerns their power bill. Georgia Power instated a moratorium and suspended all bill payments in response to coronavirus job losses. However, the moratorium was lifted on July 15.
“I think it has been a compassionate response to the pandemic and the reality of just this kind of instantaneous economic devastation for so many people,” Robert said. “[The concerns] all along have been: what’s going to happen when they lift the moratorium?”
Robert worries about how families will be held accountable for these bills, when they may already struggle to pay them.
Georgia Power is instating a payment plan that will allow families to pay past-due bills with no penalties over the course of a six-month period, starting in October.
People interested in donating can contact Martha Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org.