For the Daniel family, civic action has meant rallying their community in support of financial stability for year-round residents during the global pandemic.
Picture a place like Chatham, Massachusetts, a quaint New England village on Cape Cod, and you might envision sandy beaches dotted with colorful umbrellas, grand seaside homes, and preppy tourists sporting lobster print shorts. While not inaccurate, those images only capture part of the seaside town’s reality. Currently, about 60 percent of Chatham’s housing units are occupied by year-round residents, most of whom work in the trade or service industries (seasonal homeowners of much greater means make up the rest). With a median house value of over $800,000, and a median household income of only $58,000, there is a stark economic disparity among Chatham’s residents.
That is part of the reason Stephen Daniel ’82, P’22 and Mary Beth Daniel P’22 jumpstarted an effort this March to assist full-time Chatham residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The Daniels moved to Chatham in 2015 and Stephen (a trustee emeritus at Wesleyan) serves as chairman of the town’s finance committee. In anticipation of the pandemic’s negative impacts on residents, he met with town selectmen and the town manager to discuss options. How would or should the town respond? What would community members need during this time? After the meeting, he sensed mixed levels of understanding about how to put a safety net in place and, with little time to spare, he and Mary Beth decided to take matters into their own hands.
They quickly established the Chatham Coronavirus Impact Fund (CCIF), a community-wide project that provides assistance with vital household expenses to year-round Chatham residents. They randomly selected $300,000 as a fundraising goal and put up $30,000 of their own money to seed the fund. Since the town already has access to federal grants and other sources to feed children in the school system, they focused the assistance efforts on day-to-day expenses, such as utility bills, car payments, medical bills, and housing assistance.
“We were literally building the airplane as we were flying it,” Stephen Daniel said of the early effort.
Fly they did. In just six weeks, they raised over $480,000 from over 400 donors, ranging from vacation homeowners to local artists who donated their work for auction.
“We are so impressed by the response from this community,” Mary Beth said. “If we didn’t have the front-line people—the restaurant owners, the fishermen, the medical workers—this town would not be what it is today.”
The Daniels’ daughter, India Daniel ’22, provides logistical support for the project, compiling data and providing translation services for applicants. Two established local charities, Monomoy Community Services and the Lower Cape Outreach Council, handle the applications and distribute funds, which were initially capped at two levels: $400 for individuals and $800 for families. The program has been so successful that, after honoring 100 requests to date and disbursing close to $100,000 in support, they are now accepting a second round of applications and have increased the awards to $1,500 for a family and $600 for individuals.
—BY GINA LONGO
Photo courtesy Chatham Fire Department