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Covington donates ARPA funds to four nonprofits to mitigate COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on families

The first thing that struck Andy Brunsman during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was the number of new faces showing up for help at Be Concerned: The People’s Pantry.

The second thing was the fear on those faces.

“People were scared,” said Brunsman, executive director of Be Concerned. “We were seeing faces that were unfamiliar to our agency, and the one palpable thing that you could see when you spoke to them was that they were afraid. They didn’t know what was next or what to count on.”

As the pandemic intensified, the number of people in need continued to swell.

Be Concerned: The People’s Pantry and Esperanza Latino Center are expanding a program that opens the pantry to Latinx/Hispanic families. (Photo via City of Covington used courtesy of Esperanza)

“There were just massive amounts of people coming to us for help during that time,” he said. “During COVID, what a lot of us learned was that middle-class families were just a couple of paychecks away from being in the food pantry line.”

One of the programs the small nonprofit created in November 2020 to meet that growing need – a monthly “pantry night” for Covington’s growing Hispanic population – has grown to attract some 100 families a night.

To help Be Concerned expand the program at its pantry at 1100 Pike St., the City of Covington’s Board of Commissioners recently awarded it $85,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

Three other Covington nonprofits also will receive a piece of the $1.15 million ARPA funds that the City is giving to local nonprofit agencies and organizations whose work helps mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Covington families and workers. So far, the other agencies receiving funds: Legal Aid of the Bluegrass (Covington office), The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington, and the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky.

“COVID-19 impacted our lives at home and work in unprecedented ways, and this had overwhelming effects on service providers here in Covington,” City Manager Ken Smith said. “The ARPA funds will enable these nonprofits to build long-term resiliency and continue their critical efforts to support residents recovering from the pandemic.”

Be Concerned’s “English as a Second Language Families Program” illustrates what the City aims to achieve: aiding Covington families and workers still struggling to overcome the hardships and deficits caused by the pandemic.

To overcome language barriers, Brunsman and his team reached out to the Esperanza Latino Center, also on Pike Street, to become a partner in both the current program and the expansion.

Esperanza helps publicize the event and Be Concerned’s other resources, makes the appointments, sends text message reminders, coordinates volunteers, packs food orders, and signs up new families. It also identified culturally appropriate foods to feature.

The agency’s executive director, Reid Yearwood, praised the partnership and the opportunity to expand outreach.

Be Concerned (NKyTribune file)

“Food assistance continues to be a major need within the Latino/Hispanic community of Covington,” Yearwood said. “We are extremely grateful for everything Be Concerned has done to welcome the community and provide Esperanza the opportunity to host ESL nights in efforts to get more families enrolled and connected to much-needed food assistance.”

Brunsman said the City’s ARPA funds will allow Be Concerned to address the needs of the increasing number of families they serve and put efficiencies in place he said don’t otherwise exist. He said that while many of the agency’s clients saw a bit of recovery by way of federal stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, and other assistance, many still struggle to overcome the setbacks they endured during the pandemic.

“We had 98 families slated for our most recent ESL Families Night, and the original capacity was about 60, so we’re way over capacity,” said Brunsman. “The ARPA funds are very timely because we’ve built community trust with these families over the last year and a half and now, we’re at the point of needing that kind of support to help the neediest families in Covington from that Census tract right now.”

The City is awarding the $1.15 million in ARPA awards to non-profits on a competitive basis and is spreading it over two rounds.

The City issued a first request for proposals back in May for programs, services, and initiatives aimed at people who live in certain Census tracts identified by federal government. The programs don’t necessarily have to be new, but they have to represent at least an expansion or enhancement of the existing service delivery of an agency (or agencies, should they be collaborating).

Additional nonprofits that applied for and will receive ARPA funds will be announced as soon as they’re approved by the Board of Commissioners. Grant awards range from $50,000 to $500,000. From the beginning, the Commission earmarked $500,000 of the money for agencies that provide mental health services.

A second request for proposals will be sent out later this year for the remaining, small balance of the funding.

Besides Be Concerned, the other initial awards announced so far are going to:

• Legal Aid of the Bluegrass: $100,000 for a Financial Literacy and Legal Representation Program.

The Center for Great Neighborhoods: $45,000 for a Tax Return Look Back Program.

The Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky: $500,000 for building emergency capital improvements at all Devou Park campus buildings.

The nonprofit program is one of 32 general categories of spending that the Covington Board of Commissioners identified for the City’s $36 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The Commission allocated that money ($35,914,130, to be exact) into “buckets” early this year.

The City will continue to publicize funds and services in the other 31 categories as they become available.

City of Covington

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