Here’s a story for those who think the newspaper never reports any good news: ECHO has been able to accommodate a surge of families in need of the nonprofit’s assistance with the help of expanded support from the public.

Last week, ECHO Associate Director Jessica Locher reported the social service agency was serving 147 new families since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. ECHO typically might add just two new families in that time.

“The community has just been amazing with donations,” Locher said. “We’ve seen a lot of increase the need for housing and rental help, and those are expensive services.”

People needing such assistance usually fall into two categories, Locher said.

The first are homeless people who have been “couch surfing”—moving between their friends’ homes.

People are less likely to want a temporary guest in their homes because of the pandemic. In addition, many of the homeless shelters in the area are not accepting new clients in an effort to keep the virus out.

People in this group usually receive vouchers to use such places as the Lannon Stone Motel on Racine Street.

The other group of people asking for help are renters who have lost their jobs. They might be one or two months behind on rent, and while pandemic-related regulations protect them from eviction, they could lose their housing when those rules are lifted.

Locher stressed that ECHO’s application process for housing assistance requires people to show true need. Bank statements are required, as is documentation showing they’ve received their federal stimulus checks.

“The staff and volunteers are being good stewards of people’s donations,” Locher said.

ECHO’s next challenge will be filling their food pantry for summer. This year’s mail carriers’ food drive was called off because of the pandemic. Demand for the pantry increases every summer when school lets out and kids lose access to school lunches, Locher said.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to have some food drives soon,” Locher said.

For now, they’re just accepting donations.

People who want to contribute can go to ECHO’s website at echojanesville.org or mail a check to ECHO, 65 S. High St., Janesville, WI 53548.