It was just about a year ago when Wendi Weill, a long-time resident of her community, began to hear unsettling stories about local residents that seemed to reflect the effects of the serious economic turmoil that has engulfed most of this country. Was it possible that an elderly woman sat in the dark as evening approached because she feared her utility bill would be bigger than she could afford to pay? Was it possible that an ill father didn’t purchase his medications because he wanted to use his limited funds to buy food for his family?
Wendi’s community is, in many ways, idyllic. Known for its (largely) high per capita income, an excellent school system and excellent quality of life, Wendi was stunned when she approached local social services that corroborated exactly what she was learning.
What should she do? As a community, don’t we have some responsibility for each other? Some compassion? These were her neighbors, possibly people just down her block and no other agency existed for just this type of short-term, emergency situation. Within a few months, Wendi gathered others who shared her concern and Down the Block began.
When the Good People Fund learned about Down the Block we were impressed with its focus as well as the very real possibilities that this model could be adopted by other communities where neighbors feel a responsibility for those who may have fallen on hard times and may really be…just down the block.
The Good People Fund’s donation to this fledgling group was used to pay an unpaid utility bill for a man who had worked his entire life but was forced to lose his business after serious illness struck. Though he had a job waiting for him after he had medical clearance from his doctors, the utility company was threatening shut-off. Our tzedakah was used to pay that bill as well as another utility bill for a single mother who was faced with a $2500 utility bill after the company learned that her meter had been faulty. Though the utility was willing to work out a reasonable payment plan, she still needed $600 up front.
How many of us know what is going on down our block?