Steve Maragos woke up Tuesday morning with no job and no home, and he went to sleep Tuesday night with $2,000 from a stranger who’s pledged millions for local flood victims.
Maragos, 29, is living in a shelter at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Tuesday afternoon, he incredulously accepted a $2,000 check from Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens and East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss, who were handing out the checks on behalf of the anonymous donor.
Maragos simply said: “It’s amazing.”
He was the first person to benefit from the generosity of a woman who wants to aid flood victims in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
“We’ve all prayed so hard together,” Owens said. “God has answered our prayers. He’s sent a person as an anonymous donor.”
The benefactor has pledged to give $2,000 to every household in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks that’s been affected by the flood. What does affected mean? It’s ambiguous. The money is targeted to meet the immediate financial needs of families, including those who’ve been displaced and all who’ve suffered severe damage to their homes.
There are 25,500 households in the two cities, and it would take about $50 million to give $2,000 to each household. But that’s not the plan, Owens said.
“We figured 5,000 to 6,000 households between the two cities” as the number “touched by the flood,” Owens said.
Officials didn’t specify whether anyone would be denied. Instead, they said they hoped people who have the greatest need will seek the aid.
“This isn’t a gravy train,” according to the donor’s representative, who declined to be named.
Tuesday afternoon, Owens and Stauss announced the large gift during a news conference in the base shelter. Then they signed checks for shelter residents.
Thursday, other Grand Forks and East Grand Forks residents will begin receiving checks. Today, officials are expected to announce where residents can complete applications and pick up their checks.
Stauss and Owens said they’ve spoken to the donor. Stauss said he told the woman her gift is a “ray of sunshine.” Owens said, “I was so floored. I didn’t remember what I said.”
“She saw the outpouring of love coming from both communities,” Stauss said.
Owens is unaware of any ties that the woman has to the area. The donor contacted the city, and City Attorney Howard Swanson has been working on an agreement since last Thursday.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency were consulted so the donor could get an estimate of how many households need help. It is the donor’s hope that those who were spared “by the grace of God” will let other people benefit from the aid, according to a man representing the donor. The intent is to help people who are hurting, not to give every resident a check, the donor’s representative said. There will be a one-page application form that must be completed, but the Greater Grand Forks Immediate Aid Fund won’t be snarled by any red tape, he said.
The money is earmarked for families and individuals, not businesses, Swanson said. People of all income levels are eligible for the $2,000 checks.
To qualify for the aid, people must live within the city limits of Grand Forks or East Grand Forks.
Residents will have 45 days to apply for the $2,000 checks, so city officials said there’s no need to make a mad rush to the application centers.
The amount of funds available is more than enough to satisfy the needs,” Swanson said.
Tuesday afternoon, Maragos was starting to think about how to spend his money.
“I probably will look into getting some clothes,” he said.
Maragos said he’d like to thank the anonymous donor for her generosity, because the money will get people back on their feet immediately.