Community fund offers a lifeline

  • Mony Garriga stands outside her former office in Ridgway. She had to move because the property was being sold and found herself in a financial crunch, and received help from the Ouray County Community Response Fund, which she had previously helped promote. Garriga is one of 124 recipients from the grant fund, which helps those who need a little extra to make ends meet during the pandemic. Photo by Liz Teitz.
    Mony Garriga stands outside her former office in Ridgway. She had to move because the property was being sold and found herself in a financial crunch, and received help from the Ouray County Community Response Fund, which she had previously helped promote. Garriga is one of 124 recipients from the grant fund, which helps those who need a little extra to make ends meet during the pandemic. Photo by Liz Teitz.
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When the Ouray County Response Fund launched in March, Mony Garriga helped hang up signs advertising it.

She posted one near the firehouse in Ridgway, and another in Ouray, encouraging people to donate if they were able and to apply if they were in need. At the time, she just wanted to help get the word out.

“I did not expect to be needing it, like a lot of people,” she said.

But then Garriga was forced to close her business, ITM Integrated Therapy, and the hotels where she offered therapeutic massages were shut down.

As the closure stretched on, turning from weeks to months, she relied first on savings, and then on help from family and friends. “But I got to a point where I was thinking, it doesn’t add up, it’s not going to add up.”

That was when a friend encouraged her to apply to the local response fund through the Telluride Foundation, which is administering the fund, to help her make ends meet until she could get back to work or receive other assistance.

“It was difficult at first, because it was the first time I’ve ever had to reach out in that way,” Garriga said. The process itself was daunting: in addition to an application, she had to provide copies of bills and bank statements, but the same steps that made it more challenging also gave her confidence. “The process gave me peace of mind, because I knew that money was going directly there for this amount of time,” she said. The fund pays bills directly for recipients, rather than distributing money to individuals.

Since it was launched, the fund has received $411,364 in donations as of last Friday, Telluride Foundation Vice President of Programs April Montgomery said. The 94 donations received have ranged from $10 to $200,000.

So far, they’ve paid out $239,087.25 to 124 applicants, made up of 95 unique individuals or families. Applicants can receive up to $2,000 from the fund, and can reapply after three months if they are still in need.

Tri-County Health Network staff vet all the applications, and have also been directing applicants to other resources, like health insurance programs or other assistance in addition to the fund. Applicants must show they’ve pursued and exhausted all other resources to be eligible.

Montgomery said the majority of the requests have been for help paying rent, which is the most pressing need. Other pressing needs have included utilities, medical bills, car repairs and food.

“A lot of times, it’s things that were just unexpected and they didn’t have a cushion,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments from people that have said this is the first time they’ve ever needed a hand up.”

“I don’t know quite what we would have done without that,” said Nancy Madsen, who lives in Ridgway. She lost her job as a long-term substitute teacher in Telluride this spring, at the same time her husband, Mikael, was laid off from his job as a bus driver there.

They filed for unemployment “but it was just a challenging time with so many people out of work,” she said. “We had depleted our savings at the time,” trying to keep up with rent, medical bills and the unexpected costs when Mikael’s car broke down, and were encouraged by a friend to apply to the Resource Fund.

It took “at least 20 phone calls and emails” to get through the application process, but they ultimately received assistance in June.

For Garriga, the funding was a bridge, which helped her pay her rent and bills until she was able to receive a federal stimulus check and money through unemployment. She and others in her field communicated and helped each other navigate the unemployment process, but the lengthy delay made it challenging.

She also had to move in the middle of the pandemic, when the building where she rented both her living and work space was put up for sale. Having people passing through her home added to her stress while she was searching for a new place. Through a referral from a friend, she was connected to someone with a new rental space, but the move came as she worked to get back on her feet from the prolonged closure.

She’s now back to work under the state’s regulations to maximize safety, but she’s seeing fewer clients. In a typical two-day span when she would normally have 10 appointments, she had just one booked last week, because the hotels have less capacity and people are wary of close-contact activities like massages.

“Right now, I’m good until February, because I’ve been working my butt off to get income while I can,” she said, but she’s not sure what will happen after that point if things haven’t returned to normal and business hasn’t picked up by then.

She could be turning back to the Response Fund for more help this spring, she said.

Mikael Madsen’s job resumed in August, and Nancy Madsen returned to teaching Spanish at Ridgway Secondary School, but the Resource Fund helped them stay afloat until they could get back to work. It acted as a kind of safety net to prevent them from falling into potentially worse situations during the pandemic. The fund dollars are distributed locally, in Ouray County, to help neighbors in need.

“I’m really grateful there was such a fund in place for a small community. Sometimes it feels like those resources are more for Front Range people,” Nancy Madsen said.

Montgomery said the Telluride Foundation has seen increased applications in recent weeks from people who are seeking help for the first time. The foundation also runs the Good Neighbor Fund available to residents of San Miguel County, western Montrose County and Rico, which has also seen a recent spike in applications. Ouray County residents are also eligible to apply to the Good Neighbor Fund for additional money if needed.

They’ve received 32 applications to the two funds in the last two weeks, a noticeable uptick, she said. There was initially a surge this spring, when the shutdowns first started, but throughout the summer, there were fewer applicants. “That was because pandemic funds kicked in, and people had stimulus checks and unemployment payments and PPP (Paycheck Protection Program),” Montgomery said. “Now, we’ve been seeing a rise since September and then we’re just anticipating more and more need.” Many unemployment benefits are set to expire the day after Christmas, which may trigger even more demand for the fund.

She encouraged those who haven't been impacted by layoffs or closures to support the fund, as applications continue to rise.

“There’s just a lot of people that are hurting now. It’s going to be a tough holiday season and the first part of 2021 isn’t going to let up,” she said.

Liz Teitz is a journalist with Report for America, a nonprofit program focused on supporting journalism in underserved areas. Click here to make a donation to support her work here in Ouray County.

HOW TO DONATE

Donations can be made online through the Telluride Foundation at https://telluridefoundation.org/responsefundfitclonate-covid, by selecting “Ouray County Response Fund” in the drop-down menu. Checks can be sent to Ouray County Response Fund c/o Telluride Foundation, P.O. Box 4222, Telluride, CO 81435. Contact Katie Singer at 970-728-8717 or katie@ telluridefoundation.org with questions about making donations.

HOW TO APPLY FOR ASSISTANCE

Applications for the Ouray County Response Fund and instructions are available online at https://telluridefoundation.org/ouray-county-response-fund/. Send completed applications and required documentation to GNF@tchnetwork.org or call (970) 708-7096 if you need assistance.