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How 2 moms started a movement to donate stimulus checks during pandemic

"There are so many people out there struggling to meet basic needs."
/ Source: TODAY

When Maine experienced its first case of COVID-19, the community action group Presente! Maine started sharing information about social distancing, staying home from work and hand washing with the Latino community it serves. But most said staying home wasn’t an option.

“The answer I was getting back from people was, ‘Thanks for the info but if I don’t work then I won’t eat and I won’t be able to provide for my family,’” Crystal Cron, president of Presente! Maine, told TODAY Parents. “Stay home and safe — that was just not even a possibility.”

Cron realized that her community needed food urgently, so she started a food brigade. At first they delivered food to 200 families. Then 300, then 400, then 800. On May 2, they delivered food to 1,200 families.

“It was very important for us to bring food directly to people. Not only are we feeding all these community members, but also we’re bringing it straight to their door,” she said. “You tell us you need food and you get some food.”

The Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern said she initially wondered how her family could help people in need during the coronavirus crisis. Little did she know that inspiration was about to strike.The Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern

Cron expects the demand will increase as the pandemic continues. To continue, Presente! Maine started raising additional money on GoFundMe, where some people noted they were donating their pandemic stimulus checks to help. This is one of the many places that people have donated their stimulus money to help their neighbors affected by the coronavirus crisis. Such donations are being tracked and encouraged thanks to a campaign called Pledge My Stimulus launched by two moms in Maine. The movement encourages people to donate part or all of their stimulus checks to a nonprofit, local business or artist in order to help bolster their local economies.

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“I was feeling a lot of gratitude,” Pledge My Stimulus co-founder Wendy Blackwell-Moore of Portland, Maine, told TODAY Parents. “My wife and I were still both employed. We have a roof over our heads, we have health care and I was thinking about so many folks losing their jobs. Quite frankly, there are so many people out there struggling to meet basic needs.”

At the same time, the Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern, who also lives in Portland, was mulling similar thoughts. The pandemic news sounded so dire that she felt “profoundly helpless.”

“As a leader in a church community, what we do is mobilize people to become helpers. There was this intersection between recognizing the need and what could be done,” Torres McGovern told TODAY Parents. “It was a golden opportunity for those of us who had not lost income to do something.”

At the same time that the Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern was wondering how she could help others struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, Wendy Blackwell-Moore (right) was thinking the exact same thing. The two connected and created the Pledge My Stimulus campaign. Wendy Blackwell-Moore

Blackwell-Moore and Torres McGovern didn't realize they were stumbling upon the same idea: Maybe people with less of a financial need could donate their stimulus checks to the not-so-fortunate? Just hours apart, both women separately reached out to Maine State Rep. Victoria Morales to share the idea.

“Wendy and Tamara are two of my most amazing friends who inspire me,” Morales told TODAY Parents. “When the two of the have this amazing idea and they come to you on the same day, it is serendipity.”

Morales connected the two moms, and the campaign #PledgeMyStimulus was born. Since the campaign's website launched on April 6, more than 117 people have pledged some (or all) of their stimulus checks to almost 100 organizations in 20 states. So far, more than $88,000 has been pledged to nonprofit organizations, artists, local businesses, crafts and tradespeople.

“We are coming together in a way that is really inspiring,” Morales said. “Pledge My Stimulus gets to how we can be a community — and be with people — and still follow the CDC guidelines.”

The moms feel thrilled by the impact their campaign has had so far. But an unexpected benefit surfaced: Their children are learning how to navigate a scary situation while still thinking of others.

“As a mother of a 3-year-old watching her absorb the message of why we are staying away from people, it looks like we are afraid of other people,” Torres McGovern said. “(Now) what we ... are witnessing is hope and how we take care of one another.”

Wendy Blackwell-Moore, pictured here, said one of the unexpected benefits of Pledge My Stimulus is seeing her children's eagerness to care for others in a crisis. Wendy Blackwell-Moore

Blackwell-Moore, who has older children, CeCe, 14, and Jude, 10, agrees.

“What a beautiful distraction it is to be able to focus on this every day, instead of focusing on the statistics and the curves and the deaths,” she said. “One of the beautiful conversations we had when we committed to donating our stimulus checks was: Here is your home school work. Here is the money. Where are spending it?”

Jude and CeCe researched organizations and decided to donate some to local immigrant organizations because many of their classmates are immigrants facing greater insecurity right now.

“It is such a great opportunity (for our children) to learn how to give back and think about others,” Morales said.

To 3-year-old Tovi, pictured here with mom Tamara Torres McGovern, social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic could make it feel as though her family is afraid of other people. McGovern said the Pledge My Stimulus campaign is allowing her family to care for others while staying apart. The Rev. Tamara Torres McGovern

The women hope this campaign will inspire people to continue to be thoughtful as they navigate ongoing economic challenges presented by the pandemic.

“It is going to be a long time before things feel normal, so how can we practice this economy of caring?” Torres McGovern said. “I am an optimist. My hope is that this gives us an opportunity to practice caring more deeply.”

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CLARIFICATION (May 7, 2020, 10:14 a.m. EST): This story has been updated to clarify that Pledge My Stimulus is independent from Presente! Maine's GoFundMe.