“This couldn’t really have come at a worse time for a lot of people,” said Maria Sykes, executive director of the Green River Epicenter, an arts and affordable housing nonprofit in the rural Emery County city.
With just under 1,000 residents living along Interstate 70, the economy of Green River, like Moab, relies on the annual return of tourists in the spring. Those in the service and tourism industry weather lean winters living off savings before the season begins in March. But not this year.
The spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus that has now killed over 80,000 Americans, triggered public health measures and travel restrictions at the very moment many families were expecting an increase in income.
“In a town with only 1,000 people, having local restaurants shut down is huge,” said Sykes, “since hotels, restaurants and gas stations are where most of the town gets their money.”
She indicated a large proportion of the town’s residents were out of work, facing reduced hours or dealing with drastically reduced income.
“Our local businesses have done an amazing job of taking care of their employees, but we know that some people are falling through the cracks,” said Sykes.
After discussions with other community leaders, the group created the Green River Workers Fund, which collects funds to provide general cash assistance to local families.
“Much like the generations who came before them, Green River is currently made up of community-minded do-it-yourselfers,” the fund’s description reads, emphasizing that the town’s residents share the pioneering, frugal ethics of an earlier time. That DIY spirit also informs how the area supports its workers.
“The government is providing aid, but we worry it’s not enough. We’re able to talk to families and find out exactly what they need,” said Sykes. As of May 13, the fund was close to meeting its $5,000 goal and the group has begun accepting applications from those in need.
The fund offers various donation levels, defined by how that money would impact a local family: $25 is an average day’s groceries, $75 is an average utility bill.
Under the federal CARES Act, charitable contributions may qualify taxpayers for a deduction for up to $300, even if they don’t itemize on their 2020 tax form.
“If we meet our goal, we’re thinking about continuing to collect donations to have a permanent rainy-day fund for workers,” said Sykes. “Seasonal work is always uncertain, and supporting people in our community is such an important thing – not only now but all the time.”
To donate to the Green River Worker’s Fund, go to www.secure.givelively.org/donate/epicenter/green-river-worker-s-fund
Green River residents can apply to the fund at www.forms.gle/ngp2w3P8byeDMtn67