— This is the first installment in a series of articles in which the Jackson Hole News&Guide looks at how the community has turned to social service providers during the pandemic and how those organizations have stretched resources to meet the unique demand. — Eds.
Marcelino Moreno, 41, works seven days a week in construction while cleaning cars on the side. He also finds time to be involved in a community leadership program and organizes a youth soccer program.
Business typically slows down in the winter, but then it picks up in March.
Except this year.
Like many families, Moreno’s household budget felt the squeeze of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic shutdown that ensued. Work dried up when strict physical distancing measures were put in place. His wife’s house-cleaning income went down the drain, too. It looked like the family would be forced to decide between paying their oldest son’s college tuition or the family’s rent.
Instead, however, Moreno was able to turn to the nonprofit One22 for an injection of assistance. The family received two financial aid payments from One22, just enough to get them by this spring.
“Those two payments were what we needed,” he said. “Now I feel like I’m fine, picking up customers on the weekends, and I’m back to where I can afford all my payments and everything.
“One22, it’s an amazing program,” Moreno said. “I am so thankful we have that in the community.”
A lot of Teton families have been working hard for the past several months to survive the COVID-19 crisis, and many still are. Their income was slashed, but their bills kept coming. Some families had never found themselves in such a tight spot, especially when it came to covering the most basic household costs.
But here in Teton County, they had a place to turn to.
“In April, we saw over 2,000 applications for financial aid,” said Sharel Lund, executive director of One22. “We were seeing 100 applications a day. We couldn’t believe it.”
One22 formed in 2016 with the merger of the Community Resource Center, the Latino Resource Center and El Puente, all longtime organizations that had been dedicated to serving community members who lacked resources. The nonprofit One22 relies on private donations for more than half its operating budget. Additional funding is provided through the town of Jackson and Teton County.
Its application for relief has evolved through the COVID-19 crisis, but it remains pretty simple. Anyone who has been “significantly affected by economic strain” during the pandemic is eligible. Applicants need to provide some housing information, whether it’s a lease or a statement of rent, and income information such as a pay stub or Social Security, pension or public assistance document. People can apply more than once. More questions can be answered in English or Spanish by calling 739-4500.
Historic level of need
The volume of requests for help One22 has received, and is still receiving, is historic for the organization.
“Financial assistance has always been a part of what we do,” Lund said, “but not to this scale.”
One22 has worked to help hundreds of families over the past few months with rent, mortgage payments, health insurance, cellphone bills, utility payments, gas and food through its program, 22Helps.
Drawing unemployment isn’t always enough, Lund said, especially for families or people with student loan debt or medical debt on top of all the other typical monthly bills.
“This community, like in most resort communities, those are the folks who are getting hit the hardest,” Lund said.
So far, Lund said, One22 has helped about 3,000 struggling Teton County households through the pandemic, which the nonprofit estimates is close to 6,500 individuals.
“Last year we worked with 140 families,” she said. “This is huge.”
It has helped small-business owners, service industry workers, wedding industry workers, construction workers and many others. As weeks go by One22 will continue to reassess its assistance program.
In its second round of applications, which closed Saturday, One22 saw 290 applications. Fifty of those households were new to One22, Lund said.
Small-business owner Mike Franco and his wife, Jennifer, a massage therapist, were in a similar boat this spring. The income they normally make in the first part of the year was cut off by COVID-19, and the couple found themselves unable to pay April’s mortgage.
They, too, turned to One22 for help.
“That was huge,” Franco said.
Franco, owner of Franco Snowshapes, started making high-end snowboards after an injury years ago. His quality-over-quantity business model usually assures a certain level of stability.
“I usually get 20 orders this time of year,” he said. In 2020, however, “I got four. That had a massive impact on us.”
Even if Franco had received the usual orders he wouldn’t have been able to go into production mode because he rents a shared workshop that’s too small for proper social distancing from the other occupants.
“I can only go in two days a week,” he said, “which is not very conducive to producing snowboards.”
But, Franco said, getting mortgage assurance from One22 allowed his family to take care of bills they couldn’t let slide and still make their housing payment.
At first, Franco said, he was hesitant about asking for help.
“Part of it is psychological,” he said. “I was worried about the perception, since I sell these really expensive snowboards. But we really don’t make much money. I kept thinking there might be people more deserving.”
It was hard to hit “send” on the online application.
“But I’m glad we did,” he said. “We are going to be fine because of it. It’s crazy to think a month’s worth of help can make or break you.”
Franco said he would advise anyone who’s struggling to not be too shy about asking for help.
“We are going to be OK, but without that we would still be in trouble,” he said. “None of us were prepared for this.”
Not over yet
Lund said the struggles aren’t over for Jackson Hole families. People still need help. But One22 has transitioned to helping its clients fill out applications for state assistance through the Wyoming Emergency Housing Assistance Program.
“We will be encouraging clients to apply there first this month,” Lund said. “It is well funded, and it can provide up to $2,000 per month. That’s more than we are providing right now.”
Lund said that, while One22 has been seeing more clients than ever this spring, donations to support its work have also been surprising.
“We have received donations from people we don’t know,” she said. “It’s fascinating … six-figure gifts from people who have never given to One22 before.”
Lund said now it’s about balancing supply and demand and continuing to connect clients with other services.
“We have such a strong network of human service providers,” Lund said.
One22 works closely with several other organizations, like the Teton Literacy Center, Mountain House, the Jackson Cupboard and others.
“Our program is nimble,” Lund said. “We course-correct every few weeks. Our job now going forward is to really help our clients kind of root out and find and access every resource they have available to them. There aren’t enough but there are a lot.”
To seek assistance or to donate, visit One22jh.org/home22.
— Reporter Billy Arnold contributed to this story.