BROC answers the need for COVID-19 emergency assistance

The Avila family photographed above received Duke Endowment rental support to maintain housing.

COVID-19 has affected our nation in ways unimaginable. Citywide shutdowns, higher rates of unemployment, and reduced work hours have left thousands of North Carolina families in financial distress. With the significantly increased need, our community action agencies have stepped up to help their communities survive as the state works to bounce back from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Blue Ridge Opportunity Commission (BROC), located in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, serves low-income households in Alleghany, Ashe and Wilkes counties. It is one of many community action agencies in the state to have recently received supplemental funds from NCCAA to provide supplemental support to those reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

The funds were made available through a grant from The Duke Endowment, one of the largest private foundations in the southeast. The organization focuses on child and family well-being, health care, higher education and rural United Methodist churches. “With these grants, we continue to emphasize meeting urgent needs among communities that have endured sustained challenges” as a result of the pandemic, said Endowment president Rhett Mabry.

Alison Crisp, BROC’s lead case manager, described the financial hardship on families in Wilkesboro, and Sparta, N.C. as ‘immense.’ “Alleghany County is a small and very tight-knit community,” she said. “It was important for me to connect with as many people as possible to see how BROC might be able to help.”

Many of the county’s residents are older, so digital communication would not have been effective. Instead, Alison asked local landlords and power company staff for help in locating residents who may be in need of assistance paying outstanding bills due to the effects of the pandemic. Through this method, she was able to reach people who didn’t know BROC existed or the services it provides.

After learning about the support provided by BROC, a grateful resident said, “Thank you so much for all you do for the residents of our county. You are such a blessing.”

Alison recalls one resident who, while waiting to receive unemployment benefits, had accumulated about four months of delinquent rent and electric bills. The Duke Endowment funds were used to help her get current on her bills, preventing her from being evicted or having her power shut off.

The community response to the support by BROC has been overwhelmingly positive. “This has truly made a difference in our counties” said BROC Executive Director Dare Stromer.