Boise hotline helps hundreds of families cover emergency coronavirus costs

Sara, a single mother with three boys at home, was in the middle of switching jobs when the coronavirus hit.

She went from working both jobs to only clocking a few hours a week. Her new job at a hotel dried up, and her old job, in customer service, cut her hours down to one or two days a week.

On top of it all, she got sick. A test revealed that Sara’s symptoms were not caused by the novel coronavirus, but she missed a week of work, while waiting to see if she’d caught the notorious bug. Each day out of work she got farther away from being able to pay her $1,000 rent.

“I was very stressed out, unsure of what was going to happen,” said Sara, who asked EdNews not to use her last name to protect her children’s privacy.

That’s when a social worker at the Boise School District reached out to see if Sara and her kids needed any help.

They connected her to the Morrison-Knudsen foundation for help, and within a few days, Sara had rent. 

“It was a huge relief,” Sara said. “I was beyond grateful.”

The Boise School District has helped hundreds of families cover expenses during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the months following school closures, connecting families to community resources and using a new emergency hotline to distribute donated funds. The district has given more than $75,000 in aid from the Student Aid Fund for Emergencies (SAFE), which is funded by more than $300,000 in donations from Boise community members, foundations and corporations like Bank of America and Idaho Power.

A new SAFE hotline offers a call-in approach to help families access help while schools are closed and home finances are strained because of the novel coronavirus. Social workers can distribute grocery gift cards, and help pay for laundry, medicine, rent and other essential needs. In the first six weeks the hotline was live, nearly 500 families got help.

“We are providing families with hope right now, you are providing families with hope right now, when so many feel hopeless,” Gia Trotter, a district social worker said in a video message thanking the Boise School Board for the funds.

The hotline went live on March 30, about two weeks after the district closed its schools. Immediately, the phone line was slammed, Trotter told EdNews.

Many of the callers are families who have faced a sudden income loss, and are turning to the district for help for the first time.

“Giving this money without contingency has allowed families that would have never asked for help prior to be able to ask for help,” Trotter said.

She told the school board about a man who called in tears, ashamed he needed to ask for help. His hours had been cut drastically, and for the first time since coming to the United States he couldn’t provide for his family of three children, and a newborn.

“We are all in this together,” Trotter told him.

The funds paid for the rental space for the trailer of a single mother, who has two boys in the district. One  has a severe disability, and the other receives special education support. She is experiencing kidney failure, and is on dialysis when she isn’t cleaning other people’s homes. She lost all of her income because of the pandemic, and risked losing the trailer, Trotter told the school board.

“Utilizing SAFE funds have saved her home, and she’ll be back to work in the coming weeks,” Trotter said.

Boise School District families can reach the hotline at 208-472-2233, in English, Spanish, Swahili and Arabic. Families should have a response, and a plan in place within 48 hours, a district spokesman said. They can access the hotline  funds more than once, and Trotter says she’s starting to see a second wave of calls, from families who accessed the funds in April,  and need additional help in  May.

The district plans to keep the hotline running through the summer and anticipates giving out $50,000 to $60,000 each month.

“We want them to feel OK to come back,” Trotter said.

For Sara and her family, things are looking  up.  She’s working in customer service at a new store now, and should be able to make her rental payment for June.

“We’re going to be okay,” Sara said. ” I’m just so grateful that it was there and they were able to help me.”

Community members and corporations can donate to the SAFE hotline through the Boise Public Schools Foundation.

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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