AURORA, Colo. — Village Exchange Center (VEC), a community center that works to support and empower immigrants, refugees and other community members of Aurora, has received two sizable grants from Arapahoe County to combat vaccine hesitancy and support low-income residents.
Arapahoe County awarded $1,250,000 in funds to VEC through the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law in March 2021, and whose goal is to support the economic and public health recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a press release.
The grant will be split two ways. The Vaccine Incentive Fund will get $1 million and $250,000 will go the Low Wage Fund.
>Video above: Nonprofit supporting immigrants, refugees rebuilds after fire destroys shed
The Vaccine Incentive Fund provides incentives to low-income individuals, helping to address vaccine hesitancy among vulnerable populations who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
According to the release, many low-income individuals are concerned about the potential loss of income from missing work to get the shot, or fears of post-vaccine-related side effects that could also result in lost pay. This program will provide about two days of income should people become ill from the vaccine.
Co-founder and executive director for the Village Exchange Center, Amanda Blaurock, said individuals could get "up to $250" split up for each shot or "if you come in for a booster shot and you never received any money [for the first two shots] you can get $250 for that one booster."
The Low Wage Worker Fund provides financial assistance to low-wage workers who test positive for COVID-19. Since many of them do not have employer-paid sick leave, this supplemental assistance makes it possible for them to stay home and quarantine, offsetting the financial hardship from lost wages.
If ordered to quarantine, these workers face loss of income for one to two weeks which would result in significant financial hardship for the household including food insecurity, loss of utilities, and could even lead to homelessness.
"That one is for low-wage, low-income workers who do not have PTO or can’t afford to quarantine," said Blaurock. "So they get COVID, they test positive and we provide a $1500 grant to an individual that allows them to take their time off."
VEC had 3,500 people come to the center in the last three weeks.
"Basically, they were lining up for the Left Behind Workers Fund which is the $1,500 grant to individuals who are undocumented," Blaurock said. "In 2020 we would provide $1000 in cash incentives based on working status and ineligibility to receive unemployment insurance and CARES Act funds. Now through the Left Behind Workers Fund we can qualify people based on income status and provide $1500 in cash assistance."
Millions of Americans received $1,400 stimulus checks after the house gave final congressional approval for the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan.
Non-citizens of the U.S., however, weren't eligible to get federal pandemic relief and therefore were overlooked for federal aid. VEC provided direct cash grants to individuals of $1,000 with the Left Behind Workers Fund.
"We wanted to dignify individuals with cash because people use their money not necessarily at a prescribed location. We wanted to do the $1,000 and the $1,500 to undocumented immigrants and dignify them the same way that the government provided a financial incentive to everyone else in the United States.”
VEC provided more than $1.6 million in cash assistance through the Left Behind Workers Fund to families struggling with pandemic-related income losses, according to the press release.
"We want people to have a safe place of belonging. Everything that we do is really based on an inclusivity model of making people feel safe and that they’re dignified and truly seen," Blaurock said.
In 2021, Village Exchange Center served more than 10,000 youth, adults, and families through its community farm and pantry, vaccine clinics, youth programming, economic support funds, as well as fellowship and exchange opportunities for the entire community.
“The opportunity to serve our community in a way that invites exchange and unity is a priority to us. We are grateful for the trust that those who we serve and those who support us have in us” said Blaurock.
So far this year, through the Left Behind Workers Fund, VEC has referred and screened 1,200 undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic resulting in the infusion of $1,677,500 in cash assistance into 11 counties, the largest share in Arapahoe county (54%).
The center also offers culturally appropriate food to thousands of community members through their Village Pantry. Any given week it can be 3,000 to 5,000 people that they serve both curbside and delivery.
"We shop at local markets. We actually take our congregations and groups of people to go shopping for them." Blaurock said. "So we have a Korean pastor who we take to Hmart, we have our Congolese pastor that we take to a store that he wants for his community members."
Village Exchange Center recently became a partner of "all the refugee agencies" – the African Community Center, International Rescue Committee and Lutheran Family Services, and it will provide all culturally appropriate food to medically compromised individuals from Afghanistan who came to the state.
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: It Takes A Village