With the COVID-19 outbreak putting a financial strain on households in the Monadnock Region and beyond, Southwestern Community Services is ramping up its charitable efforts.
As of Thursday, the nonprofit organization’s relief fund had raised about $175,000, with nearly $165,000 of that already distributed to help people with basic living costs amid the global pandemic.
The surge in emergency need is comparable to that of the 2008 Great Recession — the last time the agency saw such high numbers of people unable to pay their rent and bills — according to Keith Thibault, chief development officer for the organization, which has offices in Keene and Claremont.
And with area residents, like people throughout the country, being laid off or having their work hours reduced because of the pandemic, he said the need has grown exponentially.
“This is like a natural disaster, as opposed to back then, it was the banks that were failing,” he said. “... I don’t know if that means this will be a longer recovery or shorter. It’s hard to say. Nobody has any precedents here.”
Most of the dollars given out to date — which have come from the Monadnock United Way, Savings Bank of Walpole, N.H. Charitable Foundation, Housing Action New Hampshire and the state government, as well as local donors — went toward expenses such as rent, fuel and electric bills for about 100 families in Cheshire and Sullivan counties, Thibault said.
He added that the agency has another 160 applications on hand, and payments to 60 additional households are pending.
In a typical month pre-COVID-19, Thibault said, Southwestern Community Services — which provides housing support and outreach to people experiencing homelessness, among other services — would field about 10 to 15 emergency requests for help with rent and bills.
The rest of the funding disbursed so far, about $25,000, was used to increase the capacity of the agency’s emergency homeless shelters in Keene and Claremont.
An additional housing unit was acquired in Keene, with one in the works in Claremont, to allow the shelters to more effectively follow social-distancing guidelines, Thibault said.
City Councilor and Realtor Mitchell “Mitch” Greenwald is temporarily renting out a four-bedroom apartment in Keene to the agency for this purpose, Thibault noted.
And though the agency has spent most of the money from its COVID-19 relief fund to date, Thibault said it has more donations coming in weekly from local, state and federal programs, as well as anonymous donors.
“What’s not unprecedented is the generosity we are seeing,” he said. “This is an amazing community that we live in ... and the ongoing investment in this sector, [with] how important that is right now, we appreciate it.”
To apply for assistance through Southwestern Community Services, call the agency’s Keene office at 352-7512 or Claremont office at 542-9528.
Anyone wishing to donate to Southwestern Community Services can visit its website, www.scshelps.org, or contact Keith Thibault at 719-4208.