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Shalom UCC adds COVID relief fund to outreach

From her involvement on the church’s Mission and Social Justice Committee, Marsha Stipe helped Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland form the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition (TCIC) and continues to find avenues for the church to serve the community.

Marsha Stipe helps organize fund for COVID relief.

Photo courtesy of Marsha Stipe

Because of struggles of people during COVID, TCIC recently formed the Tri-Cities Mutual Aid Project to financially help people in food service, agriculture and service jobs who do not qualify for any federal assistance programs.

With the expected influx of Afghan refugees, the TCIC is exploring what they can do.

On the Mutual Aid Fund, Marsha said that the community has been devastated by the pandemic: “We recognized that people needed cash to help with rent, utilities, food and health costs, so we started the fund.”

The fund prioritizes undocumented people, seniors 60 and older, people who lost employment or work hours, people quarantined without pay, people with disabilities and grave illnesses, people experiencing homelessness, people of color and people in the LGBTQ community affected by COVID. Funds go to people in Franklin or Benton Counties who did not receive federal stimulus checks or unemployment compensation, Marsha said.

For the Mutual Aid Fund, TCIC partners with the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) and Planned Parenthood. Applications for the program are available through the WAISN state Help Line—844-724-3737—which receives hundreds of calls from the Tri-Cities.

“Our initial goal was to raise $5,000 and give awards of $150 to $300 to qualified individuals. When we first opened applications, we received 400, so we needed more funds.

With the urgency, we ‘went on the road’ to raise funds and increased our goal to $50,000, then to $100,000 and now we have raised $120,000 on our way to $150,000,” Marsha said.

“The pandemic has gone on much longer than we ever imagined,” she said.

By mid-September, the fund had given more than $100,000 in awards of $150 to $500 to more than 300 people, primarily women with children.   Funds have come from grants, businesses, local and state organizations and individuals. Some individuals regularly give $25 to $300 a month. Group Health Foundation gave a $50,000 grant.

The TCIC, a nonprofit, through Shalom UCC, is the fiscal agent.

“Recipients have been more than grateful,” Marsha said.

Organizers often hear: “I didn’t know that anyone cared.” 

“This project has demonstrated that our community does care. All donations go directly to families and individuals in need,” she said.

In August, the Mutual Aid Fund opened a second round of applications and received 110.

Donations are mailed to Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition Shalom UCC 505 McMurray St. Richland WA 99354.

Marsha said the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition, which she chairs, formed in 2017 in response to negative press about immigrants. Shalom’s Mission and Social Action Committee sent a letter to churches and organizations inviting interested people to come together to counteract those messages.

An initial meeting in June 2017 for training with a group from Walla Walla drew 70. A Tri-Cities group formed.  More than 90 people are on the TCIC group mailing list. The core is now about 25, many from Shalom, but also outreach people from other churches, community members, farm workers and labor organizations.

“We began by educating ourselves and the community, engaging with organizations and churches to network, do advocacy by writing elected officials, and support immigrants,” said Marsha, who before retirement was a speech and language clinician, school administrator and assistant superintendent of schools in several communities.

“With COVID, we shifted TCIC from education talks and tabling to help people know their rights and holding community forums on economic and legal issues for immigrants, because those activities were face-to-face,” she said.

They shifted to do the fund and advocacy through letters to the editor and petitions. They meet monthly, sometimes with a featured speaker, and to share information and network.

In September, Aneelah Afzali, executive director of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound-American Muslim Empowerment Network, spoke as part of the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition adding another dimension to their mission: exploring resettling Afghan refugees through World Relief in the Tri Cities.

“Several expressed interest in resettling Afghan refugees here, so we are in the exploratory stages,” Marsha said.

“We first formed to educate ourselves on undocumented Hispanic people to be a welcoming community,” she said. “Now we are learning about welcoming Afghan refugees.”

Marsha joined a Sept. 12 webinar with Irene Hassan of the national UCC. It is recorded and available to share online. She said the national UCC is calling President Biden to increase the number of refugees from 50,000 to 200,000.

There are enough members active in TCIC, so some can focus on supporting undocumented immigrants, and others can focus on welcoming new refugees.

Shalom’s interim pastor Stephen Gentle and the Mission and Social Justice Committee are strategizing how to move forward as a congregation.

For information, call 509-946-6168, email or visit


Copyright © Fall 2021 - Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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