RIDGEFIELD — Help paying the rent. It can be a life-saver, a god-send — choose a cliche — but it is surely the kind of thing people can feel profoundly grateful for.

The Ridgefield Responds program, an emergency charitable effort run out of town hall, distributed nearly $532,000 to help Ridgefield families pay their rent during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am crying right now. Tears of joy and relief, of course. ️Thank you so much,” one recipient wrote.

“I can’t even begin to describe the amount of gratitude I have right now, it’s literally brought me to tears,” another person wrote. “Being out of work right now and asking for help is not something I’m usually able to do. I’m usually the one who gives help. As soon as I’m in a position to help others again, I will gladly be paying it forward. Thank you just isn’t enough!”

One parent wrote: “There are no words to thank you. I will be forever grateful. This pandemic has really devastated everyone financially. I am barely able to feed my kids and I have lost 20 pounds. I don’t eat at all. It's been extremely hard. Literally, your kindness and compassion is a life-saver. I hope someday I can repay the town somehow for all your help. Thank you so much.”

These are a sample from among 113 emails and notes that First Selectman Rudy Marconi has collected and saved, expressing gratitude for rental assistance provided during the COVID-19 emergency by the Ridgefield Responds program.

“Over 400 people received rental benefits,” Marconi said.

“The service industry people that were devastated in the loss of their work, and a lot of young people that were strung out needed to pay rent. The program really helped,” he said.

In particular, the Stephen and Anna Maria Kellen Foundation and Greg Jensen, “really helped the lives of so many people,” Marconi said.

Those were the two biggest donors, between them contributing more than half the total distributed as rental assistance, Marconi said.

There were others who gave, as well.

“Probably 25 to 30,” Marconi said. “There were four or five in the middle range — $5,000 to $10,000 — and many others in the $100 range, and we’re appreciative of everyone.”

Tony Phillips and Karen Gaudian, of the town Social Services Department, helped administer the program, along with a committee of volunteers.

“In early April, the first selectman came up with idea — he knew there was going to be a need to help people with rent,” said Phillips, the town’s director of social services.

“Ridgefield’s at about 7 percent unemployment, and this time last year it was about 3 percent,” Phillips said. “We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of people out of work.”

‘This has been a godsend’

The feelings of people who received rent assistance — many of them for the first time in their lives — ring through the emails Marconi collected.

“I am very, very grateful and thankful to all of you. It is really, really a big help makes us happy because we are not worried for eviction after lockdown. Thank you so much,” one person wrote.

Some were brief:

”Thank you so much!!!! I am forever grateful.”

“Thank you so much! This has been a godsend.”

Others offered more detail:

“Thank you so much for this very generous assistance. We are so incredibly blessed and fortunate to live in a town that truly looks out for its residents,” one person wrote. “Stay healthy and safe.”

Some came from grateful parents:

“From our family to yours, we want to simply say thank you!” another writer said. “This program got us through the end of the school year, and has been the biggest blessing in keeping us afloat during this trying time. We are most appreciative of the assistance we received, and wish you all the best!”

One email of appreciation came from a landlord.

“Thank you on behalf of our tenants and our community for your program,” the note reads. “This has helped several of our hard-working tenants affected by this pandemic and I am sure many others throughout the town.”

Four months

Marconi said the money was distributed starting in April.

“You were allowed four months of rental assistance,” Marconi said. “...Checks were made out directly to landlords.”

Some people weren’t aware of the program at first, and only received three months of help.

No matter how many months, help paying the rent could make a real difference for people.

“That was a huge help for many, many Ridgefield residents,” said Phillips, the social services director.

“A lot of service workers … a lot of those folks are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

“Hoping the job market is picking back up a little bit,” he added.

Marconi had a similar thought when asked what the people who’d been helped were doing now, a little over a month since the program ended.

“Hopefully, they’ve gotten back to work,” he said. “With restaurants beginning to pick up with outdoor seating, many people have been able to slowly get back to work.

“The program exceeded expectations,” Marconi said. “...I had no idea we’d raise the kind of money we did.”

Marconi noted that a good portion of the help came from the Social Services Department, its ongoing emergency fund, and the many people who have donated.

“People who donate to the emergency fund need to know their money really went to help people, which I think was their intention,” he said.

Marconi also expressed thanks to people who reviewed and processed all of the paperwork. Residents applied to Gaudian, who forwarded the requests to a committee of volunteers. There was quite a bit of paperwork required for the applications, including a copy of their lease and confirmation from their former employer that they were laid off due to the pandemic.

Committee members included Bob Lewis, Mike Giersch, John Metzger, Vivian Epstein and Gaudian.

Marconi also thanked Molly McGeehin, town treasurer, for processing the payments to the landlords.

Given how unpredictable life has been lately, Marconi said there was a chance he’d be trying to revive the program.

“We may need to revisit this, due to COVID-19,” he said. “I don’t know where people are at right now.”