A MESSAGE FROM
MARJORIE VANESKAHIAN BURR, ACO CEO
It didn’t happen…
COVID didn’t go away, jobs didn’t magically become available, and the struggles didn’t end at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2020! While we have such hopes for a brighter 2021, just a month into the new year the phones are ringing constantly at ACO with families calling for help and the client load is heavier than ever before.
“I lost my home last year due to losing my job because of COVID-19. We couldn’t pay the rent or the bills. My family has been living in a motel, paying what we can weekly. Now the hotel has given us until the end of the week to pay-up or get out. My unemployment benefits don’t cover the motel AND our car note. We drive to every free food pantry that is close by. We must have the car, as I’m afraid we may have to live in it.”
In the past, ACO has not normally paid for motels or short-term housing. But these aren’t normal times. This man came to pick up a check from our main office, made out to the motel where they are living to bide them another month to figure out a longer term plan. He cried as he thanked us. Did we get them out of poverty? Not at all. Did we keep a roof over their heads a little longer to prevent homelessness and keep their children from living in a car? Yes we did.
“We are more than $8000 behind on our rent after almost a year without income! We have to choose which bills to pay and which we can go without, every month. We are down to one car, which has a high interest payment of $800 a month. Everyday my wife and I both drive farther and farther out, applying for work. But still no luck. What little savings we had is gone. I never knew this could happen to us.”
ACO case managers are trained in financial literacy and were able to sit down with this Allen resident and review his income and expenses. We were able to negotiate with his landlord to waive late fees and help by making a partial payment. Utility service grants were used to catch him up with his electric and gas bills. And he is working to find a more affordable payment for his car. Both he and his wife are working with our Employment Services Director to help them find jobs. With the addition of weekly access to groceries from our pantry, their food bill is much less. Did we fix all of their problems? Not at all. Did we offer a path to financial stability if they work with our professional counselors and stay on course? Absolutely!
Now imagine 20-30 of these families calling and coming to ACO each day for appointments, in addition to another 200 cars in line for food at a given day at the ACO Food Pantry, the many local single moms struggling on one income, and the senior citizens not able to pay their monthly bills with their small fixed income. These are Collin County families, many who were struggling before COVID, and many more who were added to our case load because of COVID.
It WILL happen… the effects of COVID-19 on our community will fade, and our future will be brighter. But it will not happen right away and not without hard work by these families, commitment by our neighbors to support each other during this time of great need, and the generosity and kindness of our community.
I spent all last year thanking you for your support to help us assist one family at a time. And we will continue. ACO is strong and resilient and so is our staff. But, SO is our community. Your kindness, your concern, your financial gifts to ACO and your donations of food and household items will help us make it happen. Together we will take care of each other, and together we will lessen poverty and the struggles in Collin County.
ONE MORE THING…
I want to thank our dedicated Board of Directors for their continued support and leadership. A special thank you to our 2021 Board President, Brad Hempkins and a warm welcome to our newest Board Members, Darion Culbertson, Matt Foster, Cheryl Loving and Ken Myers. For a complete list of our Board, please visit acocares.org.
This month I celebrate 20 years with ACO, previously serving as Volunteer Director, Community Development Director, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, before taking on the position of CEO in 2019. I have never been more proud to be a part of an organization with the volunteer and staff leadership dedicated to our community, and to live and work in the most giving and caring community who supports their neighbors!