Since March, there were days when it felt like the end times were here.
The twin pressures of the coronavirus pandemic and economic pain felt in every direction meant that many Lake Havasu City residents believed they were in free fall.
It was intolerable for Mayor Cal Sheehy and Vice Mayor David Lane to witness the despair. The two men knew Havasu had significant strengths that could help vulnerable citizens, but how could they connect the dots?
That’s when the Lake Havasu City Resource Alliance was born. Because of it, the endeavor has financially helped 103 individuals and 20 businesses thus far.
In early March, Lane spearheaded the municipality’s push to coordinate wide-ranging relief efforts for local residents and businesses in need. He knew that the magnitude of the problem had to be met with a solution of magnitude.
To get the job done, Lane said he recruited help from Linda Seaver at the Havasu Community Health Foundation, Debi Pennington at River Cities United Way, Lisa Krueger at the Chamber of Commerce and Kryistyna Hook at the Better Business Bureau’s local office. The entities could dispense food, health services, financial assistance, shelter and guidance to citizens and businesses that were falling through the cracks.
“Through those organizations, we have relationships with every single organization in Havasu,” Lane said. “We are one-stop shop that is a reliable and trusted source.”
The group meets weekly to review the past week’s results and to forecast upcoming needs.
“Five people can make a fast decision,” said the health foundation’s Seaver.
The Alliance’s mission is to aid citizens or refer them to an entity that can help. Lane said that because no bureaucracy is involved, there isn’t an inch of red tape in sight. The Alliance remains nimble and is able to respond swiftly to most situations.
Money, goods and services donated by local residents fuel the Alliance.
The heavy lifting
The Resource Alliance assists individuals and businesses, Lane said. It has been using $50,000 in local donations to get the job done.
The pandemic can’t last forever. How long-lived is the Alliance?
“As long as the need is there,” he said.
Some citizens needed help putting food on the table or gas in the car. Hundreds of donated N-95 masks have been distributed to health care facilities. Shuttered through no fault of their own, businesses have received Alliance grants to cover rent, utility bills and other overhead costs.
Seaver, Pennington, Krueger and Hook with the Better Business Bureau’s local office explained how their organizations have been a safety net for Havasu’s citizens.
Better Business Bureau
Small grants of $500 to $1,000 have been given to Havasu businesses with five to 20 employees, Hook said.
“We ask the owners, ‘What are you struggling with right now?’ Many got no assistance from the federal government,” she said.
To qualify for the Better Business Bureau’s Main Street Matters grant program, a business need not be a member of the BBB, but it must be in good standing with the agency. It’s not an intrusive process, either.
“We’re not uploading any financial information. You don’t need to open your books to us,” Hook said.
Mohave County and La Paz County businesses are welcome to apply online at bbb.org/pacific-southwest/main-st.-matters-landing-page/. Video submissions are also accepted.
Community Health Foundation
While the doors were closed to walk-ins, the foundation remained open to meet citizens’ food and health needs. Since mid-March, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing, Seaver said.
“We get 20 to 30 calls a day,” she noted. The nature of the calls varies widely.
“One person was sick and needed to see a doctor. She needed to be tested (for covid-19). No one would take her. Within hours, we found a doctor who would see her.”
Early on in the pandemic, a family of four came to Havasu, looking for work. The shutdown put an abrupt end to job hunting.
“They were a stranded family. We put them in a hotel for a week while they came up with a new plan,” Seaver said.
Feeding the hungry has been the foundation’s biggest task.
“I truly am concerned for the food bank,” she said of the bank’s funding shortfalls. At last count, 3,400 citizens were relying on the bank for food.
To make donations to the food bank or health foundation, call 928-453-8190 or visit havasucommunityhealth.org.
The organization also has masks, free upon request.
River Cities United Way
Donations of Resource Alliance emergency relief funds are funneled through the United Way, said Pennington.
“Because of how we are structured, we have the ability to take in and distribute money. We have a designated covid-19 account,” she explained.
When assistance requests come in, three of the agency’s nine board members review the applications to decide on a course of action.
The smallest disbursements can keep a small family fed and mobile for a couple of weeks.
“We give $100 gift cards to Smith’s so they can buy food and gas,” Pennington said.
Call 928-855-6333 for details or visit rcuw.org.
Chamber of Commerce
Initially, Krueger said the Chamber’s role in the Alliance was to be a resource for information.
“At first, we were getting a lot of calls about what businesses were allowed to be open and what had to close. I stopped counting at 150 (calls). Some of the callers were tearful. Business owners were scared and we tried to alleviate people’s anxieties,” she said.
As the stay-at-home order dragged on, the chamber’s role as an advocate for businesses grew larger.
“We helped business owners connect with federal program lenders and accountants. And we’ve continued reaching out to local, state and federal lawmakers about issues that affect local businesses,” she said.
The Chamber’s team also stepped up to distribute hundreds of face masks to local healthcare facilities. The N-95 masks were donated by Sho-Gun restaurant owner Keith Wang.
Many recent calls have been fielded from non-residents.
“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of calls from out-of-state asking of the lake is open. We tell them it is, but as much as we love visitors, please wait awhile before coming here,” Krueger said.