by Nate Moore, Director of Community Engagement, Upstate Warrior Solution & U.S. Marine Corps, Retired
“I’m living two paychecks behind right now,” local veteran Chris W. said. Chris was medically separated from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1979 and has spent the last 40 years dealing with the ups and downs of readjusting to life in the “civilian world.” An unexpected move to Greenville in late 2019 wiped out his savings and made it difficult to pay the high gas bills from January and February. When COVID-19 hit in early March, his financial situation worsened. Because Chris is at a high-risk for COVID-19, he could no longer take public transportation or have people drive him without risking his health. He had to purchase a car to buy groceries and go to the Asheville VA for medical appointments.
The VA referred Chris to Upstate Warrior Solution (UWS) in April. The UWS team walked him through the application process for their COVID-19 Emergency Resource Fund. This is a $50,000 relief fund provided in partnership with the Premier Foundation in Greer, South Carolina. Shortly after he sent in his application, Chris was approved for rent and utility assistance so he could catch up on his bills. “I’m grateful,” Chris wrote to Upstate Warrior Solution. “The help I received fixed two main issues. Since resources are in short supply, the timing was perfect. Thank you to all concerned.”
Many veterans and their families, like Chris, are experiencing new difficulties due to circumstances brought about by COVID-19. Foreseeing this need, Upstate Warrior Solution stayed committed to serving our warrior community even when the pandemic brought the world to a halt in March. This commitment to continue working was conveyed in a letter sent out by UWS Chairman of the Board Mastin Robeson and President Charlie Hall, which said we would contact the all roughly 7,300 Upstate warriors and their families and maintain close contact with our network of community partners.
As the COVID-19 pandemic developed, so did the parameters of how our team continued to serve veterans, service members, first responders, and their families. First, the four offices were closed to walk-ins to reduce the exposure to the virus. Warriors could still come in if they made an appointment. Next, due to the social distancing rules, most of our staff started working remotely. To continue to answer phones and serve warriors who came into our offices, the leadership team and some staff volunteered to come in on specific days so there would always be someone in the offices.
Since March 16, the UWS team has contacted over 2,200 veterans across the Upstate to assess any needs they have, especially those related to the virus. Out of the 304 cases our team has worked over the past two months, 21% have been employment-related. Family services and housing have also been areas of need, comprising 16% and 12% of our case work, respectively. Our outreach was not limited to existing contacts. From March to April, we connected with 208 new veterans and 39 family members.
To date, UWS has awarded a total of $6,235 to eight applicants for the emergency relief fund through Premier Foundation. These funds have provided direct payment of mortgages, utilities, and car repairs for veterans who have been furloughed or are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19. 100% of warriors who have applied for the relief fund have received assistance. In addition to our warrior outreach, we have connected with nearly 300 community partners and 650 supporters, assuring them of our continued engagement during this time
To further serve our warriors during the pandemic, we participated in Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity created as an emergency response to COVID-19, on May 5. Our team set a goal to raise $5,000 to support our warriors and provide mirth during a difficult time. We set monetary benchmarks. Once the donations hit those benchmarks, our directors completed a challenge or two to engage our community on Facebook and Instagram. We had a blast as our leaders participated in the ice bucket challenge, a soda can crushing contest, and a surprise appearance from a large pink bunny, resembling Ralphie from “A Christmas Story.” We finished the day by egging our president then finishing him off with well thrown water balloons. By the end of the week, we were noticed by the community and raised a total of $27,600!
Our team has learned the power of perseverance during the COVID-19 shutdown. As our staff and volunteers who are veterans know all too well, staying dedicated to the mission during challenging circumstances requires teamwork and thinking outside the box. We have benefited as a team over the last several months, learning more about each other and how we can work more effectively and efficiently.
I am thankful to be a successfully transitioned veteran, living in Upstate SC and able to assist my brothers and sisters who have served our country in uniform. I am also incredibly thankful for all our dedicated community partners who have come alongside UWS as a “combined arms” team!