Latest round of COVID-19 grants helps Rhode Islanders with food, rent, utilities

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The latest round of grants from the COVID-19 Response Fund will award more than $700,000 to 23 organizations across Rhode Island.

The money will help provide Rhode Islanders with food, rent utilities, and other expenses.

The COVID-19 Response Fund was created by the Rhode Island Foundation and the United Way of Rhode Island and has awarded nearly $8 million to nonprofits across the Ocean State since March 27.

These grants, which range from $10,000 to $50,000, will help local clinics, community health centers, food pantries, churches, nursing homes, schools and various other organizations.

Neil Steinberg, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation, says this will help organizations further identify those who are food or housing insecure.

“People, families who have been left behind previously are even further behind now, and that’s why we’re not really trying to get back to normal, a new normal. The old normal left too many people behind,” Steinberg said. “We need to supply this help so that people don’t worry about their next meal, don’t worry about paying rent, don’t worry about whether they’re going to be able to afford the utility bills. They’re going be able to support and help their families, and it’s very humbling because the need is significant.”

Full list of awardees »

Trinity Episcopal Church Food Closet will use its grant to provide more food to local individuals and families in need. The pantry, which also serves Foster and Glocester residents, has seen an uptick in people seeking help, according to a news release from the Rhode Island Foundation.

Connecting for Children & Families in Woonsocket, the Housing Hotline in Newport and the African Alliance in Providence are among some of the other organizations that received funding

“Housing expenses are incredible in Newport. So, the housing rents and expenses have not gone down nearly commensurate with challenges people have when they lose their jobs or they have other impacts,” Steinberg said. “Woonsocket was known to be a city with economic challenges before the pandemic. These needs have only been magnified and exacerbated. We need to come out better on the other side.”

The Community College of Rhode Island is also benefiting from the latest round of grants, with funds specifically going towards its Student Emergency Relief Fund. Steinberg says it will help around 1,000 students taking classes this summer.

“So, these are students that maybe they’re having a challenge getting enough food for themselves or for their family, maybe they’re having a challenge with other support services that are impacting their ability to get their education even online,” Steinberg said. “That’s one that a lot of people don’t think about.”

The African Alliance of Rhode Island is receiving $40,000 to help more than 100 families pay for food and rent, utilities and medical expenses.

With more than 40 different African countries represented in Rhode Island, African Alliance of Rhode Island president Julius Kolowole says this grant money has given their community a voice they normally keep to themselves.

“We don’t like hand outs. We don’t talk about our needs, and such,” Kolowole said.

Kolowole adds this kind of price is part of African culture, and says there are still a lot of people in his community not stepping forward to say they need help.

Rev. Chris Abhulime serves as a pastor at King’s Tabernacle Church in Johnston. The church is a partner of the alliance.

Abhulime says the money has helped save lives, quite literally. He says a woman recently reached out to him and told him she had gone into a deep depression.

“She became suicidal, because hope was just gone. There was nothing coming,” Abhulime said. “And help has brought a smile into her face, and we were able to help her with rental assistance and send her some coupons for food. And she just texted me today, very grateful.”

Abhulime says prior to COVID-19, places like churches or mosques helped to provide community members with resources, but the pandemic has since depleted those.

“And that’s why it is absolutely important that organizations like United Way and Rhode Island Foundation continue to invest in grassroot communities like us to reach them, because we’re already doing the work,” Abhulime said.

Kolowole says he believes the $40,000 grant money will run out as soon as the end of July, and he plans to apply for more grant money.

Donors have contributed just over $8.5 million to the campaign since the crisis began. Steinberg says contributions have ranged from $25 to $250,000.

“We’ve got several people who have made, second, third and even some fourth gifts to the fund because they see this need continuing,” Steinberg added.

Steinberg says demand for the Foundation’s help continues to grow, and nonprofits report surging unemployment is bringing people who have never needed help before to their doors.

Gifts to the fund can be made with the Foundation or to United Way. Donations will be accepted as long as the need continues…READ MORE