Respect and encouragement go hand-in-hand with financial assistance in the GRACE Fund. The Sonora Area Foundation established the fund in September 2012 when an anonymous donor expressed a desire to help Tuolumne County residents facing emergency situations.
The Foundation then approached the Mother Lode office of Stockton-based Catholic Charities about administering the program, including the interviewing of applicants and selection of recipients.
“The purpose of the fund is to help folks who have stumbled onto a hardship, such as a medical emergency, the loss of a job or a death in the family,” said Catherine Driver, regional director of Catholic Charities in Sonora. “We want to give them a hand up so they can move forward in a positive way.”
GRACE stands for Giving Respect And Caring Encouragement.
The fund offers one-time assistance to people who have exhausted all avenues of help from other social services agencies in Tuolumne County.
“We are the last resort,” Driver said.
Organizations such as the Amador Tuolumne Community Action Agency, Area 12 Agency on Aging, Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living, Salvation Army and Tuolumne County Social Services often refer applicants to the program. Other people hear about the fund through word of mouth.
Nearly 500 applications have been submitted since 2012. About two-thirds of those have received funding, said program manager Linda Campbell.
Applicants must live in Tuolumne County. with at least one year of residency. They also need to provide proof of income and expenses to show they will be able to stay financially solvent once they receive assistance.
“It’s not here for people to use the system,” Driver said. “It’s to help people get on their feet.” One woman, who lost her job and ended up homeless, received money to buy clothes when she secured new work. Other recipients have gotten help with auto repairs, tires, fuel cards, rent, medical expenses and even motorized wheelchair batteries.
One family of six was living in a shelter. The mother had a serious health condition and the father was deaf, but they were vigilant in trying to improve their situation.
“They did everything they were supposed to do,” Driver said. “They were out there every day in the hot sun looking for work and they totally turned their life around.”
The fund was able to help the family purchase a used car large enough for the entire family.
“They were so grateful for what we did and they are doing so well now,” Driver said. “That’s what this program is all about.”
More information about the program is available by calling (209) 532-7632.