On a day when a record number of claims crashed New Jersey’s unemployment system, the Tramo family sat around its kitchen table discussing how the COVID-19 pandemic would affect many of the people they knew.
Children Mia, Raffaele and Gemma and parents Benny and Krissy talked March 17 about how businesses had to close and the people who worked there—waitstaff and cooks and hairdressers and barbers—would lose their jobs and their paychecks. The kids decided to do something about it.
So, Mia—a seventh grader at Grice Middle School—wrote the business plan, Raffaele used his technical expertise to build a GoFundMe page and Gemma harnessed all her star power to record an appeal to help regular Hamiltonians who have been collateral damage in this health crisis. Raffaele, 11, and Gemma, 8, both attend Robinson Elementary School, where their mother is a first-grade teacher.
“At first I think they had a hard time understanding it because they were like, ‘Well, they can’t work then they can’t make money,’” Benny Tramo said. “We tried to explain to them that for some people, it’s not their fault that they can’t go to work. They want to go to work, but their places of employment are shut down. So we tried to use examples from the Hamilton area, whether it be some restaurants that we go to, or my son and I got our haircut this weekend. And, you know, those people aren’t going to be able to make money.”
Their goal with their “COVID-19 Worker’s Relief Fund” is to fill that gap and assist people in Hamilton who have lost work because of the policies put in place to ease the spread of the novel coronavirus.
And what the Tramos sensed might happen has played out in real numbers. The New Jersey Department of Labor saw a 12-fold increase in applications for unemployment benefits March 16 and 17, with a record 15,000 claims filed in one day on March 17.
The effort has given the Tramo family a unified purpose during a time when soccer practice and dance class have been replaced with social distancing and remote learning. It’s a transition that has had some interesting moments, particularly because the Tramos have four people in one house trying to either conduct or complete school lessons at one time.
It has been, in the words of second grader Gemma, “complicated.”
“Our setup at home is really interesting,” Krissy said. “We have four laptops or Chromebooks going at the same time answering different groups, different grade level questions. And that’s another way that we started talking to the kids because I have some families at Robinson that are struggling. They are helping their children with remote learning, as they’re either in work or working from home. I’m getting a lot of emails from my parents, Facetiming with children. How the whole thing is being played out just kind of drew up some conversation between all of us at the dinner table.”
The conversation turned to action fairly quickly, with Mia, 13, writing up the text for the GoFundMe page and the script for a video appeal her younger sister would deliver. Raffaele established the GoFundMe page, and has been administering it, making sure to thank each person who donates.
Gemma, who is the extrovert of the family, became the public face of the effort. She said the video took a few takes to perfect, but seeing the final product has made her thankful she can fill in the time she used to spend with homework and sports helping the community.
Her mom, Krissy, said she’s proud her children have tried to do something positive amid a sad and scary situation. She said the family plans on reaching out to Mayor Jeff Martin’s office to see how they can best get the funds they raise into the hands of the people who need it the most.
“I just know working in the school that I think there’s a great need for it, especially if this goes on for longer than we expected,” Krissy said. “I know that the school district has already put out that we will be out longer than the teachers expected when we left there on Friday. So, I think that is going to affect many families in our area.”
For more information, go to their GoFundMe page.