PITTSFIELD — When the coronavirus pandemic uprooted and tangled so many aspects of life, many undocumented families did not have access to assistance such as unemployment insurance and relief checks.
So, the Berkshire Immigrant Center set out to marshal money to provide direct support to undocumented immigrants.
And to date, with help from the community, the nonprofit has raised and distributed more than $350,000 through its COVID Relief Fund to help meet the population's crucial needs, said Executive Director Michelle Lopez.
“Both our ongoing COVID Relief Fund efforts and our holiday gift card drive show just how committed the community is to showing support for local immigrants,” Lopez said in a statement released Wednesday. “Immigrants are vital to our local economy and culture, and the Berkshire Immigrant Center is committed to helping our most vulnerable clients during this difficult time.”
Individuals and businesses donated to the fund, which was boosted by private grants and coronavirus relief money from the state, she said.
The money is distributed directly to clients to help with such items as rent, utilities and buying groceries. To date, the fund has provided 162 immigrant families in the Berkshires and neighboring towns in Connecticut, New York and the Pioneer Valley with an average of $2,250 in bill payments, cash assistance and grocery cards.
Volunteer Charles Bonenti also had the idea to launch a holiday gift card project, which supports clients that weren’t eligible for COVID Relief Fund support, since they were receiving federal benefits, Lopez said.
“Their aim was to brighten the holiday season for clients who have been hit hard by the pandemic,” she said, adding that $4,000 cash and $725 in gift cards were raised for the initiative, with St. John’s Episcopal Church in Williamstown providing “significant support,” and several companies donating gift cards.
“The drive allowed BIC to send gift cards to more than 100 client households so they could buy food or presents for the holidays," she said. "A parallel ongoing effort is matching donated goods like clothing, bicycles and sewing machines with BIC clients seeking these items.”