Lawrenceville office stays busy helping Gwinnett families
During the first week of January, the LAA’s Gwinnett office received 216 calls. That’s more than twice as many as the office was getting weekly last year during the pandemic.
Odile Méndez, manager of the Gwinnett outreach center, spends her days answering the phone. “The calls don’t stop,” Méndez said. “Usually they call us from Gwinnett, but now the calls are coming in from Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and other counties.”
The office, located in the heart of Lawrenceville, has been busy helping Latino families with financial assistance for rent and utilities, as well as with applications and renewals for benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid. The staff of three also does referrals for immigration legal services, English classes and domestic violence resources offered at the LAA’s main office on Buford Highway, and for outside providers.
The last few months of 2020 were busy for Méndez, who had to hire five contract workers to help disburse funds that the county received from the CARES Act, which offered $2 trillion in economic stimulus.
The Lawrenceville office disbursed about $300,000 more in rent and utilities assistance last year than in 2019. The staff served a record 900 families in 2020 with rental assistance and benefit enrollment.
Méndez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, has been working with Latino families in the LAA’s Family Stabilization and Well-Being Department for the past six years.
What is sobering, Méndez says, is that most families don’t have a plan for navigating the current economic crisis. “They don’t have a back-up plan if they don’t get called back to work. They don’t have savings, and they’re not receiving much help out there.”