“Yelm neighbors helping Yelm neighbors, dollar for dollar.”
That’s how Yelm Mayor JW Foster describes the first month of the Yelm Community Relief Fund — a program created to help local residents impacted by the COVID-19 crisis pay their bills, buy groceries and meet other critical expenditures.
“There are people now in the community who have lost their revenue stream completely and have not received sufficient support through the government agencies to pay grocery bills and utilities,” Foster said. “This fund is to help people pay those bills.”
The altruistic partnership between Foster and his wife Nicki Foster, the Tumwater-based nonprofit TOGETHER!, and America’s Credit Union Foundation (ACU) had as of Thursday, May 14, raised $13,152.02 in donations from Yelm-area citizens and had awarded $6,817.59 to 19 eligible applicants.
An additional $4,067.43 has been distributed to six applicants through partner organization Help Us Move In, Inc. (HUMI), a national program devoted to preventing families from becoming homeless or evicted.
In the same time frame, the program has received 102 total requests from Yelm-area residents seeking $97,941.13 in financial aid, and families have so far received an average of $359 per month in assistance out of a maximum possible allocation of $500 per month.
According to Ari Rogers, TOGETHER! Community Schools manager, relief fund money has helped pay water bills for four families, phone/internet for eight, garbage for three, electricity for two, vehicle-related expenses for one and housing assistance for six. HUMI funds have also helped another six families with housing needs. No families have thus far applied more than once for financial assistance.
The relief fund’s success hasn’t surprised Foster.
“It’s exactly what I expected from Yelm-area residents,” he said by phone last week. “People are looking for ways to help other people, even when they are actually hurting, themselves.”
Donations large and small have found homes in the relief fund’s coffers — from $10 to $10,000 — the larger donation coming from a Yelm-area resident through an endowment at the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound.
And in an unusual, but generous twist, 12 people who had been approved for a total of about $10,000 relief fund money rescinded their requests because they subsequently received money from other sources.
“These residents wanted the money they were to receive (from the relief fund) given to people who had greater needs than themselves,” Foster recalled. “We appreciate that, because it provides opportunities for the fund to help other people in the community.”
As the pandemic drags on, those opportunities may become even more numerous as residents face exacerbated economic adversity.
Though the first month of the Yelm Community Relief Fund established the program as a legitimate support organization and helped Yelm-area residents battle COVID-19 economic ramifications, the second month may prove to be even more critical, Foster said.
“The second month will be when the other shoe falls,” Foster said. “If people can’t get back to their jobs and earn some money they may not be able to pay their bills, and it will cause some hardship.”
That may remain true even after the COVID-19 crisis stabilizes, Foster added.
“Even when people get back to work, we still will have a number of people in our community who will find themselves in need of assistance,” he said.
Although Foster “doesn’t see a sunset for the relief program,” he cautioned that continued donations will be critical to the fund’s vitality and its ability to continue helping the area’s residents.
“I can only hope that the fund will entice enough donations to keep it afloat,” he said. “As of now, we are pleased by what we have seen, but it’s quite clear the donations have not kept up with the applied-for need, so we would like to see more coming in so we can help more families.”
Interested in donating to the Yelm Community Relief Fund?
It’s easy: Simply visit any America’s Credit Union branch and make a tax-deductible donation to the Yelm Community Relief Fund through the ACU Foundation. If you have an ACU account, you may be able to contribute through your online banking application.
Yelm area residents in need can go online to apply at this link: