By Abby Zimmardi and Mary Hennigan
Arkansas United, an organization that advocates for the protection of immigrants’ rights in Arkansas, received an anonymous $500,000 donation in early October to provide relief for both poultry and migrant workers across the state, a group hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They reached out to us because this donor specifically wanted to get cash relief in the hands to poultry and farm workers,” said Mireya Reith, Arkansas United Founding Executive Director.
Reith partnered with Communities Unlimited to distribute the half-million dollar donation to 868 workers across Arkansas. They each received $550 cash stipends, she said.
“We were able to give out all of the money, the half a million, to (868) families, but the demand was so huge we remained with a waiting list of 500,” Reith said.
The 868 workers who received relief were within a group of 6,000 workers across the state that Arkansas United represents, Reith said. The workers were alerted to the opportunity by various means, ranging from text notifications to social media posts to local community groups.
Overall, the Hispanic community has seen 1,449 positive COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people, the second highest rate among all demographic groups in Arkansas as of Feb. 17, according to Arkansascovid.com analysis of state data. The hardest hit is the Pacific Islander or Marshallese community, with a positive rate of 2,761 cases per 10,000.
Workers from Arkansas United and Communities Unlimited created a plan to disseminate the aid from late October to December 2020, Reith said.
“We needed a partner to be able to execute that on the financial side and without (Communities Unlimited) it wouldn’t have been possible,” Reith said. “We came up with a system, and in the course of over two months we were able to get that money out the door to the community.”
Through the first two months of 2021, Arkansas United followed up with the workers who received aid to see how their families are doing, to learn their plans for COVID-19 vaccinations and to update them on state resources and programs, Reith said. The anonymous donation was unexpected, but it helped provide relief to hundreds of poultry and migrant workers and their families across Arkansas, she said.
“It was very humbling and surprising,” Reith said. “I’ve never gotten a call like that in my life.”