Tulsans raised $2.4 million for Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund, continue to support community
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CCEOK’s Emergency Assistance Manager Peter Chacon and Director of Public Relations Debbie Crowley explained that CCEOK is committed to providing assistance to anyone in need.

As the news of the novel coronavirus began sweeping the nation in spring 2020, Tulsan Cynthia Jasso started a domino effect that would ultimately raise millions to support local undocumented immigrant communities through the pandemic. 

“At the onset of the pandemic, it became very clear that COVID was acutely impacting Tulsa’s immigrant community with many losing their jobs and experiencing a reduction in hours,” Jasso recounted.

In the U.S., undocumented workers make up 4% of the total workforce and contribute $11.74 billion to state and local taxes each year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. However, stimulus checks and COVID-19 relief programs were not reaching this demographic, leaving families unable to pay their rent or utilities as hours at work were being cut.

Jasso called her friend and colleague, Annie Koppel Van Hanken. Van Hanken works for the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which promotes equitable opportunity for children. They’d begun working together two months previously when Jasso was hired after five years with Teach for America.

They spoke about what they saw happening nationally: Organizations were stepping up to support immigrant communities while the U.S. government figured out how to respond.

They could do that, too, they realized. They could start the Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund, TIRF. 

“From there, (Van Hanken) and I started fundraising,” Jasso said.

They made phone calls, including to their current employer GKFF, which said it would support Jasso and Van Hanken in starting TIRF through the Tulsa Community Foundation, TCF. People and organizations alike were calling back, excited to offer support.

“Within a week or two, I felt like, we’d raised almost million dollars,” Jasso said. “Local donors were like ‘yeah, we want to support,’ and so we started a donor network.”

Six local philanthropic organizations contributed donations of $15,000 to $500,000, bringing the fund to $942,856 by May 21, 2020.

Since its launch, TIRF has raised more than $2.4 million in charitable donations.

“We know that, for the most part, immigrants’ communities have been left out of the stimulus checks and even some of the other benefits that have come out of the CARES Act. The point is to temporarily fill a critical gap that exists in our social safety net,” Jasso said.

As TCF collected the funds raised by TIRF, the growing challenge became how to access immigrant populations in Tulsa.

Catholic Charities of Eastern Oklahoma stepped up to offer support.

CCEOK’s Emergency Assistance Manager Peter Chacon and Director of Public Relations Debbie Crowley explained that CCEOK is committed to providing assistance to anyone in need, regardless of their immigration status. Its trusted relationship with the immigrant community and ability to disperse resources quickly linked it to TIRF. “We want to love them as if they are Christ, which they are. They are the treasures of the church, and we want to build them up,” Chacon said. “It’s not easy for people to ask for help in general, but we have a trusted partnership.” 

CCEOK has served 1,511 households through TIRF funding alone, equating to approximately 4,381 people, Chacon said. They offered $387.98 on average in cash relief assistance per household. People can ask CCEOK for assistance directly and discreetly through their website at

The cash relief mostly went toward utility assistance (63%), rent assistance (18%), and medical assistance (4%), Chacon explained.

Through all partnerships, TIRF has worked with 3,133 immigrant families in Tulsa County since its conception.

“As a first generation Mexican American, I identify with the struggle of our immigrant community. It’s important to me, and countless others, to always see each other’s humanity and stand with our immigrant families and workers.”

Jasso said the experience shifted her mindset. She understands the power of leveraging her own personal role to meet community needs.

“It has been one of the most transformative experiences to co-found the fund,” Jasso shared.

And now, a year later, TIRF is still providing aid to the community because “COVID hasn’t really let up,” Jasso explained. 

TIRF partnered with grassroots campaigns such as Share my Check, a mutual aid fund that allowed Tulsans to share their stimulus checks with undocumented neighbors, and Growing Together, a local nonprofit that aims to tackle childhood poverty.

Through Share My Check, Tulsans could donate their second stimulus checks directly to TIRF at Immigration status, their website states, should not determine whether an individual receives essential help.

Growing Together held a check distribution day using TIRF funds. Jasso recounted the lines of people stretching through the building’s doors and around the street corner.

“There were about 150 people, from all ranges of ages, that were there because they heard that there was support,” Jasso said. “They haven’t been able to access a lot of what was available.”

Many Tulsa organizations and donors have come together to make TIRF possible. Jasso is grateful and inspired by the Tulsa community rallying behind the immigrant community.

“Tulsa’s immigrant community contributes so much to the social and economic fabric of our city. They are essential workers, small business owners, entrepreneurs and most importantly, our neighbors.

“While we’re still deciding the future of TIRF, this effort is one of many examples of what happens when Tulsans come together.”

Tulsans raised $2.4 million for Tulsa Immigrant Relief Fund, continue to support community | Tulsa World