Roaring Fork nonprofits collaborate to support immigrant families during COVID-19

To apply for a MANAUS Emergency Fund grant, visit donate to the MANAUS Emergency Fund, visit For more information on MANAUS and its mission, visit

Over this coming week, $200,000 will be distributed to 200 immigrant families in need from Aspen to Parachute as part of a tri-nonprofit partnership and collaborative COVID-19 relief effort.

The partnership is headed by MANAUS, a social justice nonprofit that centers on collaboration, community organizing and “human-centered design” to create sustainable solutions to local issues and to further equity within Roaring Fork area communities, according to its website.

Through $50,000 from MANAUS; a $50,000 contribution from the 2020 Rescue Fund, a charitable fund with the Aspen Community Foundation created by three Aspen locals to get relief money from donors to residents as effectively and efficiently as possible; and $100,000 from Valley Settlement, a Carbondale-based nonprofit and former MANAUS project dedicated to supporting immigrant families, together the three nonprofits are working to bolster the emergency financial assistance available to the region’s immigrant community which may not have access to COVID-19 relief funds otherwise.

“MANAUS is not traditionally a direct service organization but we do serve the same populations as our nonprofit partners and are committed to serving our immigrant neighbors,” said Sydney Schalit, executive director of MANAUS. “We’re aiming to support immigrant families who may not be able to access other government support networks due to their documentation status.”

According to Schalit, the $200,000 will be split into $1,000 grants and distributed to 200 individuals and families as $950 of “immediate cash” directly deposited into a bank account, given as a check or literally as cash; and a $50 deposit into a LaMedichi savings account, though accessible if needed at any time.

LaMedichi is a savings and loan app geared toward people who may be “bank averse,” namely due their U.S. citizenship or immigration status. Launched as a MANAUS project three years ago, the app has served 300 members as a trusted place to save money and receive savings and financial literacy education and guidance from LaMedichi ambassadors, Schalit said. LaMedichi members earn 3% annual interest on their savings and are able to borrow money in emergency situations.

But since April 9, the app has functioned as the mechanism for MANAUS’ financial aid application and emergency fund distribution process, ensuring the rapid deployment of relief monies and encouraging its members to continue the habit of saving, if possible.

According to Elaine Grossman, Valley Settlement’s interim executive director, all of its nonprofit’s future emergency funds will go through the LaMedichi app, allowing for more collaborative, quicker distribution of financial aid to families “living through this crisis without a safety net,” Grossman said in a statement.

But while Schalit said MANAUS is incredibly grateful for all of its partners — including Colorado Trust, a health equity foundation that also is set to contribute $150,000 to the emergency fund this week — she believes the nonprofit will run out of its emergency funds by the end of the week.

As of Monday morning, Schalit said MANAUS has given $1,000 grants to 380 individuals and families, totaling $380,000.

Schalit anticipates that distribution total will reach $600,000 by Friday thanks to the contribution of generous donors and other organization partners, but said MANAUS plans to rally more support to continue to ensure immigrant families have access to the critical financial aid they may need.

“We’re so fortunate to have such generous partners and will continue to raise money for the emergency fund,” Schalit said. “But as much as it is about emergency assistance it’s also about maintaining dignity and giving every person in our community a chance to survive this horrendous crisis we’re going through.”

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