BMA Spring Fundraiser Underway – Part 2
Last updated 3/24/2022 at 9:36am
The Borrego Ministers Association (BMA) has all but exhausted $280,000 in generous donations used to assist local families and individuals over the past two years during the COVID pandemic. Their work, however, continues much of it out of the public spotlight, as the season in Borrego Springs comes to an end and when workers start to get hours cut while expenses continue, or even rise. Before the exodus by snowbirds to cooler summer climes, the BMA seeks replacement funds to carry on their work even as funds in their bank account get lower by the week.
The BMA is a 501c3 nonprofit coalition of local ministries chaired by the Reverend Michael Plekon, who is also Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Religion, and Culture at the City University of New York – Baruch College. Father Plekon has been with the BMA for a few years, and when Dr. Laura Brecht departed in November, he was elected BMA Chairman.
Father Plekon and BMA board members Geoff Barton, Mike Himmerich, Diane Johnson, and other BMA members, all committed community leaders, are concerned about seasonal layoffs in the hospitality industry, as well as the shrinkage of agricultural work at a time when the COVID pandemic is winding down, while at the same time, “pastoral needs will keep coming.” Those pastoral needs include helping families obtain food vouchers, rent, utilities, and childcare needs.
The BMA paid funeral expenses for a wage-earning woman who died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving behind a husband and two children.
“The husband was devastated, and the family didn’t have enough money to bury her,” Plekon said, adding, “and with half of the monthly income gone, we helped with other expenses going forward.”
Dr. Pamela McEvoy, PhD, is a BMA board member who does grief counseling and helps counsel families like this one in emotional distress. The BMA does not hand out cash directly, but rather, they pay a bill that recipients cannot afford.
During the height of the pandemic, many families lost loved ones, and there were also local wage-earners, who contracted COVID and were simply too sick to work. The people of Borrego came through for them by way of donations to the BMA.
“What I find amazing is the generosity of people in the larger Borrego community who stepped up and contributed,” Plekon said.
He also mentions other non-profit organizations, for example, the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund, which made more than one substantial donation to the cause. “We can do the work we’re doing thanks to the generosity of the people in Borrego.”
“Just take a look around the town, such as who shows up at a food bank,” he says, where he also volunteers his services. “Not just the down and out, but regular folks, scraping along on a social security check. I see people who by the grace of God, could be me.”
The BMA is not by its nature a fundraising organization, but according to treasurer Mike Himmerich, who helped found the BMA about 10 years ago, they became one by responding to the unique COVID emergency in the greater Borrego community. The work and responsibilities of Himmerich and the BMA has expanded tremendously the past three years, but he and others have risen to the challenge.
“We’re also very much involved with the food bank,” he says, an ongoing operation where logistics are formidable.
The source of the food distributed at St Barnabas and St. Richard’s churches is the Jacobs & Cushman Food Bank in San Diego and by contributions from locals. Surplus food is either stored nearby or returned for re-distribution. Food has reached thousands of Borrego families and individuals, and the need continues to this day. It should be noted that another BMA member, Ernie Loza, keeps tabs on local needs and, 10 years ago, proposed that BMA sponsor a food bank.
BMA board member Tammy Baker, also a director at the Borrego Water District, was directly responsible for the progress made with the situation at Santiago Estates, where 75 code violations (since reduced significantly) were issued by the Department of Health and Safety just as summer heat was nearly upon us all. She and others reached out to residents and various agencies to ask for more time to address violations and solutions.
“Many do not speak or read English sufficiently to understand the importance of addressing the violations and their potential impacts,” including disruption of electrical service after repeated official notices that went unaddressed. Also, BMA board member Martha Deichler was instrumental in providing translation services throughout the months-long back and forth between residents, County agencies, and Santiago Estate owners.
The situation is not yet fully resolved, but Deichler and the BMA are on top of it. Deichler checks on families with children to review financial problems and difficulties finding work, and she counsels individuals and families.
“There are many families with wage-earners working two jobs,” Deichler said, and she is a critical community link between available jobs and available workers going forward.
Diane Johnson, also a BMA board member and BWD director, has worked with Tammy Baker and families on rental assistance for Borregans impacted by Covid-related shortfalls in income. Johnson and Baker were additionally concerned about electricity demand in the coming sweltering summer months for air conditioning needs at Santiago Estates. Electrical violations were being addressed, but residents who were having trouble making rent were also being subject to disconnection and even possible eviction. Johnson and Baker worked diligently to prevent that, and so far, no one’s been evicted while negotiations concerning compliance with County codes are still “up in the air,” Johnson said. But she and Baker are in it for the long haul.
BMA board member Shirley Vialpando lives in Santiago Estates and handles the dispersal and recording of food coupons approved weekly by the BMA, but she also knows people who, despite trying times, are giving back to the community.
“There is one fellow who has a bad heart and very little money, yet he finds and repairs old, broken wheel-chairs and transports them to Mexico and gives them to handicapped people there who otherwise could not afford them. He also volunteers to help out at the food banks.”
Vialpando also knows of a neighbor who brought to her house, anonymously, Christmas gifts for a family here in the park who have three children, a newborn, an infant less than two years old, and a seven-year-old who is autistic. There were gifts for each of the children and a nice toaster oven for the parents.
These are but a few examples of how the BMA, working without fanfare but seemingly unlimited resolve, has thus far dealt with the social and economic fallout of the COVID pandemic.
BMA board members Michael Plekon, Mike Himmerich, Tammy Baker, Diane Johnson, Martha Deichler, and Shirley Vialpando have all risen to the unique challenge. They, together with a virtual army of dedicated volunteers, are among the unsung heroes of this unique exercise in community involvement.
And now the BMA bank account is all but exhausted, so it needs funds to continue their work. If you are able, please donate now, especially if you will be leaving soon for the summer.
Donations can be made on the BMA website at http://www.borregoministersassociation.com.