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TUPELO • As questions still arise around the impact COVID-19 will have on the local economy, a new support fund seeks to provide emergency relief to those who may lose wages during this time.

The United Way of Northeast Mississippi and CREATE Foundation COVID-19 Support Fund is seeking additional support to start fulfilling requests for immediate financial needs such as utilities and rent.

“No matter if people can give $10, $100, $1,000, every little bit can make a difference for someone who is facing job loss right now or layoffs or uncertain about what’s going to happen,” said Robin McKinney, United Way of Northeast Mississippi’s communications director.

McKinney said the two organizations started the fund as a natural extension of their work. When concerns about COVID-19 first began, volunteers and people in need immediately turned to see what their response would be.

“This (Support Fund) is a way that we can help alleviate some of that and give people a little hope and a little stability in a time where things are just very uncertain for a lot of people,” McKinney said.

Since launching last week, the fund has already gathered more than $150,000. It was kickstarted by a $50,000 challenge grant from the CREATE Foundation.

Toyota Mississippi pledged $50,000 to the United Way of Northeast Mississippi and CREATE Foundation COVID-19 Support Fund. The donation was part of efforts by Toyota Motor North America, Inc. and its affiliates in 13 states to provide $500,000 to local United Ways to support emergency relief needs.

The Tupelo-Lee County Community Foundation committed $10,000 to support the fund and the Tupelo/Lee Hunger Coalition, according to a press release.

The fund also received a lot of support from the community with amounts large and small. Any time there was a disaster or crisis, the community came together, McKinney said. She cited the fund as further proof of people’s willingness to care for their fellow neighbors.

“We were very pleasantly surprised to see that pretty much immediately once we put out there we had the fund, we began getting donations,” McKinney said. “With things being so uncertain for so many, we weren’t sure if individuals would be able to donate because all of us are facing the possibility that we may be the next one to potentially be losing our (jobs) or being laid off.”

United Way saw similar support with the Tupelo/Lee Hunger Coalition, as people donated money to ensure local school age children were fed during this time. McKinney said people of all backgrounds donated to the COVID-19 Support Fund, including people who may live paycheck to paycheck and see firsthand the need for an emergency fund.

While there is no set dollar amount to raise, McKinney said the two organizations hope to raise more than $250,000 to give a good start in being able to help a lot of people. The reason the two organizations started the fund was because of concerns that as local businesses and larger manufacturers were closing due to COVID-19, there would be a larger number of people who would need help.

The fund is meant to “help fill the gap” for families, McKinney said. The details of the fund are still being discussed, but the goal is to make the process of applying for funds easier so people can get help as they wait for other forms of assistance such as unemployment. While the fund is primarily for utilities and rent, they are open to using the funds for other necessities as the need arises.

The fund will go towards grants, which will then be distributed to local nonprofits to directly serve individuals affected by the coronavirus throughout several counties in Northeast Mississippi.

“Both our organizations are really hopeful that everyone is going to come out of this OK, and we’re just trying to do our part to help people. Hopefully it won’t be very long term and things will get back to normal, and just know we’re supporting everybody and we’re going to do our best to make sure all of our communities are OK,” McKinney said.

Since the initial announcement, United Way and CREATE have already received requests and hope to have the fund ready “as soon as possible,” McKinney said. The organizations are currently working with their partner agencies on the details and hope to be able to announce the process of applying and have grants made in a couple of weeks.

Organizations have already been identified as being able to assist with this work and have received the fund’s first grants, according to a March 27 press release. The Salvation Army and the Family Resource Center received $25,000 each for food, formula, diapers and medications. Eight Days of Hope received $15,000 for food. Meals on Wheels-Lee and Meals On Wheels-Monroe each received $10,000 for food for the elderly. Saint’s Brew also received $10,000 for food.

Donations can be made at www.unitedwaynems.org/covid19fund or by sending a check to the CREATE Foundation at P.O. Box 1053, Tupelo, MS 38802. For more information, call United Way at 662-841-9133 or CREATE at 662-844-8989.

danny.mcarthur@journalinc.com

Twitter: @Danny_McArthur_

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