Carrie Walsh

Charlotte County Human Services Director Carrie Walsh updates county commissioners on the large number of people applying for financial assistance after losing work due to the coronavirus shutdown.

It only took a few days for an estimated $1 million in requests to arrive from stricken households in Charlotte County.

That’s what the county’s Human Services Director Carrie Walsh told commissioners earlier this week.

Those requests are coming to a coalition of non-profits, government and private interests that created COAD, or Community Organizations Active in a Disaster.

“This is too big for any one agency to tackle alone,” Walsh told commissioners.

The main agencies behind COAD include the Charlotte Community Foundation, Gulf Coast Partnership and United Way of Charlotte County, Walsh said.

Last week, when it became clear that the coronavirus was going to put countless people out of work, the foundation activated its disaster fund, Executive Director Ashley Maher told the Sun. Then, the partnership created a website in one day. By Monday, about 1,100 households had applied for aid.

Maher used friends of hers as an example. A young couple have two children. The husband works in a restaurant and the wife works at a gym. First one lost their job and a few days later, the other.

The COAD site (www.COADfl.org) is taking requests for aid online as well as accepting donations and providing volunteer options. People can also call the county’s 211 center, which is available 24-7. From Englewood, the 211 number is 941-205-2161. That information is online at www.charlotte211.net.

When the county gets the call, Walsh said, they do more than just direct people to financial aid. They have been advising people on how to navigate the funding sources out there, including unemployment compensation, Food Stamps, food pantries and meal sites, energy assistance, and small business loans.

Calls have been so overwhelming, Walsh said, that the county and COAD have a request of citizens in need.

“There is help available, there is; however, the needs have been staggering so we need folks to take a breath and take stock of their current situation and wherever possible, start to self resolve,” she said. “Reach out to your landlord. Reach out to your mortgage company, and see if there is any wiggle room. Sometimes there is. Sometimes there isn’t.”

Commissioner Joe Tiseo repeated the advice.

“If you’re just nervous and sitting at home, do not take away resources from somebody who really needs these resources,” he said.

An advantage of the local fund is that it has what they call low barriers, Walsh said. That means you don’t have to wait until your utilities are about to be shut off or you are facing eviction. You still have to produce documentation of your situation, but staff will work with you.

Walsh also told commissioners and the public that more money will be needed.

The first $75,000 in funds came as a match from two local donors, Cheryl Berlon and the Pennoyer Family Trust. They will match up to $75,000 from other sources. So far, donations have come in from 30 donors ranging from $25 to $24,000.

“Whether it’s $5 or $5,000, it makes an impact,” Maher said.

Commission Chairman Bill Truex advised county administrators to be ready for funding requests.

“If we need to increase our efforts in that arena, I think we need to prepare for that by our next meeting,” he said.

Tiseo noted that commissioners — before the crisis began — funded the county’s family assistance fund for the first time in many years, with $50,000. And they waived more taxes that non-profits have had to pay.

“Boy, have they stepped up in a big way,” Tiseo said.

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