In an effort to prevent an explosion of the homeless population as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, community members and local nonprofits have banded together to find a way to streamline services and find a better way to help the local population.
“Instead of competing for the same dollars, the community could rally around a collaboration and use one donation to impact several nonprofits at the same time,” said Laura King, the founder of Conway Gives, which launched in fall 2018. “Right now, this particular campaign is partnering with the Conway Ministry Center, Bethlehem House in Conway and City of Hope Outreach, and we are collaborating with the Community Action Program of Central Arkansas, The Salvation Army, the Arkansas Community Foundation of Faulkner County and the United Way of Central Arkansas.”
The main purpose of the campaign is to help prevent families that have been directly affected by the pandemic from becoming homeless. The group has set up a website, www.conwaygives.com, and a housing-assistance hotline at (501) 358-6960.
“We just started getting the word out, and it took a couple of weeks to get it set up,” King said. “We have $3,000 to start with, and we just had our first allocation meeting with our first families.”
She said Conway Gives received a letter April 16 stating that the Arvest Foundation has granted $10,000, which should be available in a couple of weeks. Through the local agencies, Conway Gives has received 43 applications, and King said the organization was able to fund eight of those applications.
“Your current circumstances for this particular need has to be related to COVID-19,” King said. “For example, we had one family where the husband was laid off from his job, and the wife had just had a baby four weeks ago.
“She has a job to go back to once her maternity leave is over, and he is not eligible for unemployment. So they were eligible because they have a way to sustain themselves once she starts working again.”
King said the organizations have set a cap of $350 for assistance to each family, but she said representatives will also look at each application on a case-
“I wasn’t surprised [by the number of applicants]. It just hurt my heart a little bit because I know there is a great need,” King said. “[Many of the nonprofits] have received phone calls trying to find resources for assistance.
“So we are trying to streamline ways to help people and help nonprofits so we don’t have several nonprofits taking the same phone calls. And it is harder on those families if they are trying to chase down multiple nonprofits.”
Spring Hunter, executive director of the Conway Ministry Center, said there are several organizations that already have some version of rental-assistance programs.
“But clearly, none of us is prepared to take on the rental-assistance economic effects of COVID-19,” Hunter said. “It is more than one of us can handle, so we are collaborating with five agencies.”
She said there are some applicants who have never applied for rental assistance; therefore, the idea of this collaboration is to make the process easier.
“Navigating the system is not easy, and rather than them trying to figure it out, if they need help, they can call the number, and we can work together to get it,” Hunter said. “We are working together to help people in central Arkansas pay their rent.”
Hunter said there are also caseworkers in place to make sure applicants have taken all the necessary steps to get the help they need.
“They ask questions like, ‘Do they have their stimulus check coming?’ Some of these applicants may have not filed taxes last year or in a couple of years. Have they applied for unemployment, or are they struggling with that?” Hunter said. “We are banding together to make a much bigger impact for our community.”
Shelley Mehl, executive director of the Arkansas Community Foundation of Faulkner County, said the affiliate agreed to help with this effort by providing a grant to cover the website and additional marketing costs, creating a fund and online giving link, and providing oversight on the distribution of collected funds.
“Supporting these local nonprofits as they target an identified need in Faulkner County by coordinating and sharing resources is exactly why we exist,” Mehl said.
Mehl said the national coalition of GivingTuesday is launching #GivingTuesdayNow, a global unity event to take place May 5 as a response “to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19.” For more information, visit
According to the press release from Conway Gives, a community fund has been set up at First Security Bank to house donations, and an allocation committee is in place to distribute funds based on need over the next 60 days.
“We are fully supporting this new effort to raise funds for rent assistance,” Mehl said.