Add To Favorites

United Way of Lancaster County's Project SOS helps those struggling during COVID-19 pandemic

Intelligencer Journal - 3/21/2021

When the child care center where Ariel Watson enrolled her son temporarily closed in March as the COVID-19 pandemic hit Lancaster County, Watson made some painful decisions.

In order to focus on caring for 3-year-old E’lon, who has autism and a rare congenital condition on one of his hands, Watson, 29, stopped attending HACC, where she was studying to become a licensed practical nurse, and quit her job as a full-time in-house caregiver.

Unemployment helped, but she said it was barely enough to make ends meet.

“I didn’t think things would get this bad,” she said. “But once they did, I was looking for a miracle.”

What she didn’t know was that the United Way of Lancaster County had a program where people donate some or all of their stimulus money to a fund to help those who have experienced setbacks related to the pandemic. A text from her sister pointed her to the program.

“Project SOS originated because community members reached out and said, ‘I’m receiving a stimulus check and don’t need this money,’” said Kevin Ressler, president and CEO of United Way of Lancaster County. Those community members were searching for an organization that would distribute their stimulus money to people in need.

The program provides up to $500 for families and $200 to $250 for individuals. Households making less than $48,000 and individuals making less than $21,000 are eligible to apply.

More than 400 households have applied to the program.

The idea for Project SOS came from an email Ressler received from a former colleague about “Share the Stimulus,” a program in the Midwest.

“We researched the program and said, ‘We can build this,’” Ressler said.

As of March 10, the United Way of Lancaster County has received 423 applications, with a combined total of more than $73,000 distributed to 20 single applicants and 143 families.

Giving back

Harvey and Sandy Asher wanted to find a way to give back to celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary. A Facebook post about Project SOS motivated them to donate $1 for each year of their marriage.

The couple has lived in Lancaster city for 18 years. Harvey Asher, 79, is a retired university history professor, and his 78-year-old wife is a freelance writer.

“When we decided to donate … the Facebook post (promoting the program) arrived and I thought, ‘Perfect,’” said Sandy Asher.

The couple said they look out their window each day to see a public housing building and think to themselves in every window there is someone trying to make it through the day.

“What are we here for if not to help one another,” Sandy Asher said.

Thanks to people like the Ashers — two of the more than 170 people who have donated to Project SOS — Watson and E’lon received a much-needed donation to help them make ends meet.

Watson said the $500 she received helped keep a roof over her and her son’s heads. She said she feels hopeful after E’lon began a program at the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, which caters to his needs and acts as his new day care. And Watson said she plans to return to work in the next few weeks and resume school later this year.

“Words can’t express how grateful I am to Lancaster,” said Ariel.

As people begin to receive the latest round of stimulus money, Ressler said the program is still accepting donations.

“Maybe the next thing will be donations for something else, I don’t know,” he said. “But I do know when we all make small contributions, we can move mountains.”

What to Read Next

Crédito: ANIYA THOMAS | LNP Correspondent