WORTHINGTON — When Nobles County became an epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota in late April, Lisa Kremer, Parish Social Ministry Coordinator for the Worthington Deanery, received a phone call from an individual concerned about the community’s immigrant workforce.

These people wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment or any kind of government stimulus payment and would fall through the cracks, he worried.

A day or two later, Kremer received a second call from a Worthington individual expressing the same concerns.

“He got his stimulus check and said he’d like to help people — essential workers who are getting sick,” Kremer explained.

The calls from those two individuals led Kremer to approach Catholic Charities about establishing a COVID-19 Relief Fund to help families who lost significant income due to the pandemic and didn’t qualify for other assistance. With an uncomplicated application process, households could apply for up to $500 to cover housing or utilities expenses.

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“We already had an emergency fund in place, so we tweaked that a little,” Kremer said.

Donations began to pour in from throughout the Winona Diocese (the southern two tiers of counties stretching from Winona to Pipestone).

“Because people, early on, heard about what was going on in Worthington, we had a lot of donations from Rochester and Winona and all over the area,” Kremer said, adding that $34,721 has been raised since May.

Catholic Charities started distributing the dollars in June, making direct payments to utility companies and landlords to help those families who sought funds.

More than $27,000 has been spent as of this week, said Kremer. She’s now concerned as the fund has been shrinking just as new COVID-19 cases are increasing.

“We’re down to $7,600, and the applications have been coming in a lot more in the last couple of weeks,” Kremer said Thursday.

While she’s looking into other opportunities to replenish the funds, such as grants, Kremer is putting out a call for donations to help meet the number of requests.

“We get a lot of referrals from Worthington Public Utilities, Head Start, the Our Lady of Guadalupe free clinic,” Kremer said. “We work with a lot of organizations who know of folks who are in need.”

Kremer expressed appreciation for utility companies willing to extend the grace period without adding late fees, if they know money from the relief fund will be coming.

“The turnaround time is pretty quick,” Kremer said, adding that she approves the applications and notifies Catholic Charities to send payment.

With more than 60 households receiving assistance thus far, Kremer said the people have an incredible sense of gratitude.

“When you’re in a bad spot, you don’t want to ask for help,” she said. “Most people don’t want to ask.

“People are always so grateful and so understanding about the situation,” she added. “If my situation were just a little different, I could be struggling the same way these folks are.”

Kremer said most of the recipients are hopeful their hours will improve or they’ll be able to find a job, but as the pandemic wears on, people are struggling.

“We hope that this gives them a hand up, just to make it better until their situation has improved,” she added.

While the COVID-19 Relief Fund is available to residents in Nobles, Rock, Jackson, Cottonwood, Murray and Pipestone counties, Kremer said the majority of applications have come from the Worthington area.

“Most of them are families and sometimes quite large families,” she said.

To donate to the Worthington Area COVID Relief Fund, visit ccsomn.org and click on the “donate today” link on the home page. When completing the donation information, be sure to designate the dollars to “The Worthington Area COVID Relief Fund" in the “notes” space. Another option is to write a check, payable and mailed to Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, P.O. Box 379, Winona 55987. Indicate on the memo line of your check that the donation is for the Worthington Area COVID Fund.

All donations are tax-deductible and 100% of the money received will be used to help people who live in Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, Murray, Pipestone and Rock counties.

Anyone in need of assistance, or would like more information, may contact Kremer at 360-3423, or via email at lkremer@ccsomn.org.

“Catholic Charities does a lot of good work throughout southern Minnesota,” Kremer said. “I’m always grateful that they’re willing to respond to the need in certain areas.”