Coronavirus calls for help ‘swamping’ Fight Fund, United Way
By ED FINKELSTEIN
“We’re swamped!” is how Sonja Gholston-Byrd, United Way vice president of Labor Engagement, summed up the plight of the Robert J. Kelley $5 for the Fight Fund as the surging coronavirus impacts the jobs of tens of thousands of local workers and their ability to make ends meet.
Between January 1 and March 25, calls for help jumped 49 percent – from 39 cases in January to 58 cases in March – and that is quickly draining the available funds.
At Labor Tribune presstime, there was only $27,500 in the Fight Fund. Between Jan. 1 and March 25, some 114 union members had called for help to cover pressing bills and living expenses, as St. Louis area and Illinois residents were told to stay at home, forcing many businesses to close, at least temporarily, and lay-off employees.
A $2 trillion relief package passed by Congress last week will provide some relief in the form of direct payments and improved Unemployment Insurance benefits, but for many it will not be enough.
YOUR HELP IS NEEDED NOW
St. Louis Labor Council President Pat White last week put out an urgent call to union members who are still working and union retirees to consider a contribution to the Fight Fund ASAP to help their union brothers and sisters who already are feeling the brunt of the crisis. (See names of current Honor Roll donors here.)
“Our brothers and sisters in crisis are part of our union family,” White said. “We need to be there for them.”
Last year, the Fight Fund covered more than $97,000 in bills for hundreds of union families from 61 different unions in the St. Louis and Southern Illinois region. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic ground most economic activity to a standstill.
Paid for through the generosity of union members and retirees, the $5 for the Fight fund has raised and paid out nearly $2 million since its formation in 1996 to help union members and their families facing financial crisis.
With the United States now leading the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases, and the numbers of infected residents rising in Missouri and Illinois, the need this year is expected to get much worse.
HERE'S HOW YOU CAN HELP
Donations to the “$5 for the Fight” Fund can be made by check, online or through the Schnucks eScrip program. Here’s how to donate:
Mail a check or money order to “$5 for the Fight,” c/o St. Louis Labor Council, 3301 Hollenberg Drive, Bridgeton, MO 63044. Please include your union affiliation.
To make an online donation, visit the $5 For the Fight donation page. There is an option there to create a Reoccurring Automated Donation.
The Schnucks eScrip program is “free money” for the Fight Fund; it doesn’t cost you a penny to participate. Just pick up a free eScrip card at your local Schnucks. When you show it at checkout, Schnucks will donate a percentage of your purchase to the Fight Fund. The amount varies with your monthly purchases: one percent for the first $300; two percent from $301-$600; and three percent from $601- $999.
One hundred percent of every donation goes into the “Fight Fund.” All efforts to promote and service the Fund are donated by the Labor Council, the United Way and the Labor Tribune.
EXAMPLES OF NEED
Here are recent samples of the needs of union families being met by the Fight Fund and the United Way:
School bus driver out of work, with schools closed since spring break and not scheduled to reopen until the later part of April. A previous gas bill hampered her ability to get a connection at a new residence. She was able to come up with funds to get the gas turned on, but nearly $200 was been added to her monthly bill. Not sure how she will make it the next couple of months, she requested help with her utilities.
Food service worker is currently out of work until April 22 because of the coronavirus. Mother of three children ages 4, 9, and 11, says it’s a toss-up between rent and food. While she still has her job, doesn’t have anyone to care for her children since they are out of school. She may need to stay home to care for them. United Way provided referrals.
Airport worker whose hours were cut due to reduced travel during the pandemic looking for help to make ends meet, and concerned he will not be able to pay electric or gas bills.
VOICES OF GRATITUDE
Some examples of the gratitude of union members helped by the Fight Fund:
Just saying you’re going to help me with this has just made my day.”
“If I could just reach over the phone and give you a hug and kiss, I would.”
“This is such a miracle. I’m so overwhelmed. This is the best news I’ve had in many months. I feel like I’ve been fighting for everything for so long. This is a blessing.”
NEED HELP? DON'T BE TOO PROUD TO ASK
If you’re in need of emergency financial help, please don’t be too proud to ask for assistance. Getting help from the $5 for the Fight Fund is as easy as picking up the phone. Here’s how it works:
Call the Labor Participation Department at United Way and leave a message on the Labor Assistance Line at 314-539-4189.
Confirm your membership – As part of the initial conversation, the United Way Labor Liaison may ask you to call your union and ask your union representative to call Labor Liaisons to confirm that you are a union member in good standing. In some cases, certain unions prefer that the Labor Liaison call them to confirm union membership.
Assessment – Once your union membership is confirmed and your needs have been assessed, the Labor Liaison will research available resources and determine whether assistance is needed from the Fight Fund.
Payment – If assistance is appropriate, the Labor Liaison will request a payment from the St. Louis Labor Council’s $5 For the Fight Fund made directly to the union member’s mortgage company, landlord or utility companies, etc. to prevent further action.