Household support has expanded to over 150 families and individuals

At the start of April, volunteers shopped and safely delivered food twice a month to about 50 immigrant families who lack money, transportation, or childcare. We increased our focus on non-food and personal hygiene needs as well, and supplemented our Shop-and-Deliver schedule with emergency food deliveries, because, fortunately, we had the means.

Today, there are six deliveries each month, reaching over 150 families in need, thanks to volunteers from Ulster People for Justice and Democracy, who deliver food every Wednesday. Volunteers – masked, gloved, and standing six feet apart – arrive at scheduled 15-minute intervals, move between food stations, pick up the food, and bring the food to our friends’ porches and front doors.

Besides providing food for people who have no current income, the program is also building bridges, both among activists in sister social justice organizations and between communities. But our means are limited, so we make ongoing efforts to identify other emergency food and resource programs, like Ulster County’s Project Resilience and school district lunch programs, and we help our immigrant friends connect to them.

Entirely an effort of volunteers, UIDN’s Household Support program depends on a growing fund of dollars and in-kind donations. In all of 2019, we spent $14,200 on food and hygiene goods. We spent more than half of that amount — $7,300 — in just the first 14 weeks of 2020. And the need for help is still increasing as jobs disappear, while Project Resilience and school district lunches move toward termination in the late spring.

Addressing Housing Issues

Housing insecurity ballooned, so we greatly expanded rental assistance.  Jobs may disappear, but rent does not. UIDN’s existing program of direct rent support increased more than five-fold from January to April, and May expenses already exceed those for April. The Governor’s deferred rent policy helps temporarily, but ultimately, unmanageable bills will come due. We therefore took a new direction: UIDN negotiated with landlords and utilities, offering payments up front if they accept reduced payments from families with well-documented needs. As we write this UPDATE, those negotiations have served 71 families.

Digging into the Digital Divide

We worked to bridge the “digital divide” to inform many families of county and local resources. County government, school systems, and many other agencies have been conscientious in posting critically needed COVID-19 information in Spanish as well as English, but many immigrants in Ulster County are refugees from Guatemala who speak native languages other than Spanish, and even many Spanish speakers do not have access to television or the internet. Since March, UIDN has brought critical information about safety and services to our immigrant friends, and has worked with the Kingston School District to ensure that children in homes without internet are included in access to distance learning. Together, we pressed Spectrum to recognize that problem and find a solution.

Answering the Phone

Our helpline assisted families to apply for new forms of emergency assistance. The UIDN helpline is widely publicized in the immigrant community as a resource to call for guidance about where and how to get help. During the current crisis, the calls have increased in numbers and urgency. The Helpline volunteers, who all must be fluent in Spanish, are providing access to the new emergency programs available in Ulster County from non-profit or government agencies, including Catholic Charities, Radio Kingston Fund, and United Way. Immigrants need to hear about them, and UIDN needs to help them navigate new application forms to get help.

Helpline volunteers are now proactively reaching out, asking “How are you and your family and friends doing?” We have revised and upgraded the Helpline effort. Two student interns from Bard have helped systematize the questionnaires and record keeping used by Helpline operators to make sure all issues are covered, new information is recorded, and records are maintained on services provided.

In the past, UIDN has mostly helped relatively new immigrants, but now the larger and more settled immigrant community has been so disrupted by the emergency that they too have needed to call. UIDN is meeting these challenges step by step. And, as always, we would greatly benefit from having more bi-lingual Helpline volunteers to share the work. (Volunteer here!)

Creating new Collaborations

UIDN has forged collaborations to make sure that Ulster organizations and agencies include outreach to immigrants in their emergency programs. Our strengthened relationships rely on shared funding, information, and volunteer effort with over two dozen government agencies, community-based organizations, and faith communities. Together, these collaborations bring both attention and resources to the needs of our immigrant friends. Visit the Who We Are section to learn more about UIDN’s friends, allies, and supporters.