Three Bethlehem assistance programs are among the 27 Lehigh Valley recipients to receive funding from approximately $760,000 in grant money dedicated to reversing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Community Recovery Fund Grant was funded by the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill established in 2021 intended to help the United States recover from the pandemic. The city of Bethlehem announced the recipients of the Community Recovery Fund at Northeast Middle School last month.
Maison Allen, the grants administrator of Bethlehem, said the city was able to secure this grant with the help of Sen. Bob Casey and Rep. Susan Wild. Allen created the Community Recovery Fund and was hired to serve as a contact for the community and nonprofit organizations.
In 2022, the city conducted a survey to evaluate Bethlehem’s community recovery needs to decide how this money should be allocated. Some of these focuses included community centers, education and literacy programs, food assistance, and mental health and counseling services.
“We wanted to keep the eligibility kind of broad because we’re trying to help as many organizations as possible,” Allen said.
She said any nonprofit or community organization serving Bethlehem residents was able to apply for the Community Recovery Fund, with the chance to receive anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000.
The Boys & Girls Club of Bethlehem received a total of $75,000. Some of their services include homework help, youth mentorship, after-school meals and mental health programs.
Winston Alozie, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Bethlehem, said the funds will be directed to their teen program, which focuses primarily on middle and high schoolers.
“COVID put us in a situation where it exacerbated or highlighted problems that already existed in our community and amongst our children,” Alozie said.
New Bethany, a nonprofit housing assistance program, was another recipient of the Community Recovery Fund and plans to use the funds to remodel their food pantry. The organization administered a survey to Bethlehem residents to determine what system would improve accessibility and make it easier for people to obtain food.
Marc Rittle, the executive director of New Bethany, said the remodel will be similar to a grocery store, allowing people to shop for their food needs.
Rittle said New Bethany noticed an increase in demand for food assistance after additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments used during the pandemic ended earlier this year.
“The cost of living is so much higher than it was before the pandemic, and that’s not going away,” Rittle said. “There’s an additional population of people who never needed help before the pandemic who need help now.”
Rittle said New Bethany currently serves around 5,000 people and hopes to use the grant along with other government grants and funds to provide more people with an accessible food source.
Josh Berk, the executive director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, said they plan to use their grant from the Community Recovery Fund to provide the library with social workers for low-income or unhoused individuals.
Berk said the grant will also be put toward professional development, so staff can be better equipped to understand people’s needs and how to assist them.
“Our staff can learn more about some of the extraordinary conditions that people we are serving may find themselves in,” Berk said. “Staff can learn more about issues related to mental health and drug addiction and how to work with special populations experiencing trauma.”
He said housing shortages have been exacerbated in the past few years and the library continues to see more people experiencing homelessness.
Rittle said New Bethany has also noticed housing struggles as they currently house up to 50 residents at a time.
Allen said the city received a total of $3 million for the next few years and plans to reopen applications during that time. Organizations can reapply for the grant if they didn’t receive it and previous recipients can reapply for a new project.
“With this being government funding, I hope that people realize this is an opportunity where the government is working for the people,” Alozie said. “This is simply seeing our government and the tax dollars for the work that we do paying to benefit the youth of our community.”