Alexandria in Action with Heather Peeler: Act now to support our neighbors in need

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(Photo/Free Range Stock)
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There was a collective sigh of relief upon hearing about the recent agreement to temporarily end the partial federal government shutdown. Many affected workers will transition back to “normal” life. However, for others the uncertainty and hardship linger. Some of Alexandria’s most vulnerable will continue to feel the ramifications and are still at risk of falling into crisis.

Many people hurt by the shutdown are the working poor. Consider the child care worker who was laid off because furloughed federal workers could not afford to keep their kids in daycare, or the low-wage contractor who will not receive back pay and risks falling deeper into credit card debt. Individuals participating in federal programs face disruption in benefits, creating even more stress. Benefits from the federal food assistance program SNAP must last through March and those with Section 8 vouchers fear eviction as the government falls behind on payments to landlords.

A May 2018 report from the Federal Reserve found that 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t have the money on hand to cover a $400 emergency. Given the high cost of living in our region, $400 goes quickly. It’s easy to see how a family’s financial footing can slip away.

Heather Peeler

The nonprofits in our community are poised to help. The Lazarus Ministry, a program offered by Christ Church and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, provides emergency financial and food assistance to Alexandrians. This week they reported seeing an uptick in the number of people requesting support for rental assistance and food. Many are first-time clients who have not utilized Lazarus Ministry’s services in the past.

The experience of Lazarus Ministry is echoed by other providers in the financial assistance ministry network, including: the St. Vincent de Paul Society at the Basilica of St. Mary; Episcopal Church of the Resurrection; St. Joseph Catholic Church; the Old Presbyterian Meeting House; Alfred Street Baptist Church; St. Rita Catholic Church; Fairlington United Methodist Church; ALIVE; the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington. Those on the front- line of our community’s safety net are worried about the shutdown’s short- and long-term effects.

Nonprofit organizations face financial vulnerability as well. To respond to the needs of families and individuals, nonprofits put themselves at financial risk as they increase services. According to the Nonprofit Finance Fund, most nonprofits have less than three months of operating reserves on hand.

Alexandrians are known for their generosity. Now is the time for our community to come together to support our neighbors. Providing direct support to nonprofits is the best way to address the need. Food and clothing donations help, but financial donations give organizations the flexibility to put resources where they can make the biggest difference. If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, contact Volunteer Alexandria at www.volunteeralexandria.org for opportunities to lend a hand across the community.

Finally, the City of Alexandria and ACT for Alexandria are co-investing $25,000 each in the ACT Now Fund. The Fund will provide grants to nonprofits that serve Alexandrians affected by the shutdown and will support a broad range of programs. Priority will be given to short-term, unanticipated emergency services – such as food, housing, financial assistance, child care assistance and mental health services– followed by services that help affected workers become more resilient and rebound. You can contribute to the ACT Now Fund or submit a proposal for funding by visiting www. actforalexandria.org.

-The writer is President and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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