BY Matt Sheen
The Peacham community is actively demonstrating its community spirit in the wake of economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic by instituting a relief fund to provide financial assistance to those experiencing hardship due to the illness or job loss resulting from the state-wide shutdown.
The idea was proposed by resident Dave Edwards and approved by the town select board on April 15. Edwards says he was inspired to start the fund after receiving the government’s stimulus check, which he didn’t want or need. He and his wife used that money to start the Peacham COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Any resident of Peacham is eligible to apply and can do so on the town website, peacham.org, or pick up an application outside the town clerk’s office at 79 Church Street. Questions can be directed to Edwards at Peacham53@gmail.com or by calling 802-592-3402.
Applications are due by the 15th of each month, with grants given out at the end of the month. The first applications were accepted and grants distributed in June.
The applications are reviewed and grant determinations are made by an advisory board for the fund made up of seven members, three justices of the peace from the Board of Civil Authority, and four members appointed by the select board.
Applicants must turn in documentation of a particular need, a doctor’s bill, a utility bill, and approved grants are given directly to the vendors. No cash is distributed to applicants.
Edwards has been both administering the fund and acting as principal fundraiser. To date the fund has raised over $16,700 and given out $1,000 in grant money to applicants with demonstrated need, leaving a balance of more than $15,000 still available as they began to process the second round of applications in July.
“I’m overwhelmed by the response we’ve gotten,” Edwards said of the donations to the fund. “It far exceeded my expectations. It shows how much people in Peacham care about their neighbors.”
Edwards has also spearheaded the effort to get the word out about the fund, posting on Front Porch Forum, the For the Love of Peacham public Facebook page, the town website, and a paid ad in the Caledonian Record.
A member of the fund’s advisory committee has also put up posters about the fund all over town: the post office, the library, the school, but Edwards says the best outreach has been word of mouth, with people giving applications to someone they know is in need.
Edwards sees one of the challenges involved in the endeavor being what he calls, “Vermont Pride,” people realizing they are in trouble and in need of help but refusing to accept it. He stressed that the application and grant process is completely confidential.
“The town clerk redacts all the names and addresses and other identifying information on the applications before passing them on to the committee,” he said, “So they approve the grant or not without even knowing who the applicant is.”
The fund is planned to be maintained as long as needed.
“I had a long talk with the town treasurer (who is also Town Clerk Tom Galinat),” he said. “We see this as a long-term issue. The government’s Payroll Protection ends on August 6, but that will leave many people vulnerable. We’ll be going into winter and there will be heat and utility bills, not to mention taxes. We don’t want people to have to lose their homes because they can’t pay their taxes.”
Whatever lies ahead, Edwards is optimistic that the community will pull together to face. “ I talked to the assistant town clerk today,” he reported. “ And she said more donations came in today.”