When COVID-19 struck and authorities implemented sweeping shutdowns of society and businesses, the hardworking single mother of two from Bucks County was furloughed from her job in the restaurant industry.
Eventually, she began working again, but only part time, due to pandemic-related rules that limit restaurant seating capacity.
Her reduced income, even with help from partial unemployment, wasn’t enough to cover basic essential expenses, like rent.
Then the Bucks County Opportunity Council stepped in.
The Doylestown-headquartered nonprofit, which serves low-income people in Bucks County through a variety of programs aimed at reducing poverty and establishing self-sufficiency, provided several months of rental assistance, helping to keep the mom and her kids in their home.
Sadly, the woman’s hardship story isn’t an anomaly in Bucks and Montgomery counties in 2020. Economic shrapnel cast by COVID has driven a huge increase in demand for assistance services from BCOC — and that’s why it’s so essential for locals with the means to donate to the Give A Christmas Program this holiday season.
Administered by the Bucks County Opportunity Council in partnership with The Intelligencer, with 10% of the proceeds shared with the Keystone Opportunity Center, the fund provides financial assistance to individuals and families in need during the holidays. Money not dispersed during the holidays is used to support locals in need throughout the year.
Benefiting low-income people in Central and Upper Bucks County, as well as Eastern Montgomery County and the North Penn and Indian Valley communities, the fund provides a variety of assistance. That includes everything from help with buying gifts and groceries, to paying rent, medicine bills and utility expenses.
“We are fully expecting an increase in requests for assistance during the Give A Christmas program this year,” said Erin A. Lukoss, CEO/executive director of BCOC. “More families who are out of work, struggling to pay rent and put food on the table may not have any extra for holiday gifts.”
Donations from local individuals, families and businesses power Give A Christmas. They’ve been doing so each year since 1988 when the initiative began. Over the years, about $3 million has poured into the fund. This year’s fundraising goal is $140,000 – an objective BCOC officials hope will be surpassed given the rampant demand for assistance.
“We and our nonprofit partners are all serving more people now compared to the same time last year,” said Lukoss. “We have all seen an increase in requests for food help, rental assistance and other basic needs.”
There are hard numbers to back what Lukoss asserts. Bucks County ranks in the top 20% of counties nationally for increase in unemployment over the same time the prior year, according to an analysis from The Wall Street Journal.
BCOC has seen firsthand what that stark distinction means for local households.
“At one point, we were seeing triple the number of people we typically help,” Lukoss said. “Today, we are more than double our numbers as compared to before COVID. Food assistance pre-COVID was 300-to-400 per week. Earlier this year, we were up to 1,300-to-1,400 per week. Now we are right about 900-to-950 each week.”
Requests for help with eviction prevention have soared, too.
“In the first quarter of our fiscal year, we have helped 635 people, as compared to a total of 945 people for the entire fiscal year of 2019-20,” said Lukoss. “We continue to serve people who are working but at reduced hours, or who are furloughed.”
If there’s a bright side, though, it’s this: Donations to BCOC already are up for the year. Those that can help are feeling compassion tug on their heartstrings and making donations to help less fortunate neighbors.
Lukoss is encouraging locals to keep the generosity coming this holiday season with Give A Christmas.
“I feel like people who have not been as affected by COVID are feeling really blessed and thankful and they want to help front-line workers, people furloughed, and others dealing with hardship as much as possible,” she said. “My gut feeling is that those who can help, will do so in a big way this year.”