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Members of the Cody Interfaith COVID-19 Relief Fund, including Dan Hunter, Pat Montgomery, Ole Sondeno, Konnie Haman and Kenny Lee, meet.

A local interfaith group is collaborating to offer financial assistance to people in need because of COVID-19, believing the pandemic will create scenarios that fall outside support systems.

Mike Galagan, parish administrator of Christ Episcopal Church, described one such scenario. A Cody resident had a roommate who shared the cost of renting a place until the roommate lost employment, due to COVID-19, and moved out to live with his parents.

Although the Cody man’s disability payments disqualify him for unemployment benefits, he did receive a stimulus check. That will help, for a while, but he’s facing a rent beyond his means along with other obligations. Meanwhile, his landlord lost his job, making him reliant on the rental payments.

“A lot of people are going to be hit by the virus,” Galagan said of the pandemic’s financial repercussions, particularly after current government programs end. “It could be later this summer or fall. They’ll start hurting for money.”

A call for donations

The idea for the fund emerged from a “convergence of thoughts from several of us,” said Pat Montgomery, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church and moderator of the Cody Ministerial Group. “Many of our congregations have long histories of rendering assistance, including economic assistance, to those in need.”

Throughout the year, various local churches receive requests for help under normal circumstances, explained Joyce Dickerman, parish secretary for St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. She said COVID-19 has created abnormal circumstances that could linger.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she said of the first application to the interfaith fund in early May.

Dickerman credited Montgomery for proposing the idea of the joint effort, the Cody Interfaith COVID-19 Relief Fund. Montgomery and she are members of the project’s leadership team along with Galagan, Kenny Lee of Cody Foursquare Church and Presbyterians Konnie Haman, Ole Sondeno and Quincy Sondeno.

The team is reaching out for help, “to people of good will in the community,” said Montgomery, who noted that early donors represent a variety of denominations.

“We are suggesting that if you received an economic stimulus check through the CARES Act, and your personal income has not been adversely affected by COVID-19, that you use that money to be generous with others,” he said. “If you have wealth beyond the stimulus program, we encourage you to be generous with that as well.”

Seed money for the fund came from the foundation of the Episcopal Church of Wyoming, funneled through Christ Church’s Mission Committee, Galagan said. While it’s a solid start, Dickerman predicted that demand will necessitate many more donations.

“It sure doesn’t take long to go through (your reserves) in this day and age,” she said. With continuing financial effects from COVID, “we’ll start to see people whose lives have been drastically impacted.”

The way to apply

The interfaith fund targets “an individual who has been negatively, economically impacted by COVID-19,” Montgomery said. “Ideally, people will contact us through electronic means” via a website created by Ole Sondeno.

“It’s a simple application. Every line must be filled in. There are multiple screens with super-direct questions,” Montgomery continued. Applicants who need assistance with the form can call (307) 587-2647.

The website will assign a completed application to a member of the leadership team for review. The reviewer will do due diligence, such as calling a landlord, checking with city hall and contacting references, Galagan explained. Then the reviewer will submit the application to the leadership team along with a recommendation for a decision by the group.

“It’s a vote of the whole committee,” he said. That procedure “gives us time to process the application in a thoughtful way.”

The finances will be handled by the Presbyterian Church for oversight, accountability and tax benefit, Montgomery said.

“We kind of want it to be an organic Cody thing,” he added about the fund. “One hundred percent of the donations will go to the applicants. One hundred percent means 100%.”

An eye on the future

For now, the leadership team will remain that size, seven members.

“We want the group to be small until the bugs are worked out,” Montgomery said, “then we can add more people to broaden the leadership.”

The team understands that government funding is handling many people’s needs right now, but “that’ll probably dry up in June or July,” he said. Then the group anticipates a surge from people who don’t usually apply for help.

“We’re expecting some unusual situations,” Montgomery said. “We think fall is when it will start,” after summer when jobs might be available. “Fall will be revealing, downtown businesses will know if they can make it, when the federal government packages are depleted.”

In the meantime, Montgomery hopes that the community, especially those with resources, will consider those with less, of those in need, those hurt by COVID-19 facing difficult situations.

“That’s the time to think about others who may be suffering,” he said. “We know something is going to happen and want to plan ahead for the worst so when we see a legitimate need, we have something to offer.”

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