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Community saves family on verge of eviction

Rita Martinez stands with her grandchildren Aryanna Martinez, 9, left, Andres Martinez, 15, in the background and Armando Martinez, 13, right outside their apartment at the Prairie Hills apartment complex on Tramway. The family was facing eviction from their home but the community stepped in to help. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A week ago, 66-year-old Rita Martinez was worried about being evicted, worried about attending a court hearing and being exposed to coronavirus, and worried about how she was going to feed and care for the three grandchildren she has been raising for the past several years.

Martinez has an autoimmune disease that keeps her from working and puts her at high risk from COVID-19 as it sweeps through the nation.bright spot

She shared her story, and her fears, with the Albuquerque Journal in a story published Thursday.

That same morning, with a knock on her door, her luck began to change when a stranger delivered bags of groceries and told her he and his wife had paid her rent.

“I screamed, I dropped to my knees and started crying,” Martinez said Monday, choking up multiple times. “He said, ‘I saw the Journal, and my wife and I paid your month’s rent, and all these groceries are for you and the kids,’ and then he handed me a hundred dollars.”

Since then, more generosity has poured in.

Martinez said other people stopped by to offer her money and gift cards, paying off her last car payment and putting up between three and four months’ rent so the family can stay in its two-bedroom apartment until the summer.

A teacher who knew her middle grandchild saw the story and set up a GoFundMe – raising $3,000 in about 48 hours.

With the payment of back rent and fees, the court case has been dismissed and the family will no longer have to attend a court hearing or face possible eviction.

“I feel guilty a little bit; it’s an extreme amount,” Martinez said.

Some cities and other jurisdictions across the country have halted evictions while residents grapple with COVID-19 and being out of work as the country hunkers down.

Both the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County have said that people who live in city- or county-owned housing will not be evicted.

But those living in privately owned complexes are still at risk of losing their homes if they can’t make the rent.

Thomas Prettyman, the managing attorney for New Mexico Legal Aid, said he and his colleagues have been contacted by people who say they received letters from landlords warning them not to default on rent. Eviction hearings are still occurring every day in Metropolitan Court, he said.

Martinez said she and her grandchildren have been talking about ways to “pay it forward” and help out others who are in need like they were. They want to do yardwork or help package meals for the homeless, as much as they can while maintaining social distancing.

“I know the desperation,” she said. “I know the fear, especially now with this going on. I feel blessed, mighty, mighty blessed, but I do feel for the other people.”

Kyle Neice, a teacher at Jackson Middle School who taught Martinez’s middle grandchild last year, said that when he saw the story about the family last week he was instantly moved to help by setting up a GoFundMe and sharing it on social media.

He said he expected some donations would trickle in, maybe reaching $3,000 in a couple weeks. Instead, the goal was met by Sunday night; among the donors were three people who donated $500 apiece.

He said he wanted to help a “good kid” but also do something to feel less powerless during the current crisis.

“It’s a way to remain connected,” Neice said. “In this really weird time where we’re so physically isolated we still have the ability to reach out to each other and help in any way possible.”

We welcome suggestions for the daily Bright Spot. Send to newsroom@abqjournal.com.

 

The Opportunity Fund, managed by ABC Community School Partnership, provides micro-grants to families in emergency situations to help them stave off eviction or other hardships.

Visit https://nmcf.org/support-a-project/ to learn more.

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