CMPD Officer Creates Emergency Fund To Help The Needy
There are numerous agencies and non-profits in Charlotte that help residents with their rent, utility bills, housing and other emergency needs. Last year a new crisis assistance program joined those ranks, and it's run by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
CMPD officer Rick Zoerb saw a lot of tough things in the middle of the night during his three years of patrols in high-crime areas of South Charlotte.
“I’d see children sleeping on the floor, not having food in the fridge, not having jackets or blankets to put over them at night,” Zoerb said. “I understood this and wanted to help.”
But Zoerb couldn’t do much for them. On one occasion last year, he says he used his own money to buy groceries for a destitute family. The gesture made it to social media somehow, and a local auto dealer wrote him a check so he could help more people. Zoerb received other donations from businesses, and the CMPD Emergency Needs Fund was born.
“I took the funds that people wanted to use to help people and empowered police officers to be able to see those people in need and be able to use that money right then,” he said.
Initially the fund served families only in his patrol area. But after seeing the difference it was making, Zoerb asked Chief Putney if he could go citywide with it. Putney agreed.
“I wish I could claim this idea but he’s smarter than I and saw a need before I did,” Putney said. “Officer Zoerb came to me because, interestingly enough, he knew what it was like to go to bed hungry and he wanted to be part of the solution.”
Zoerb, a California native, says at 14, his divorced mom was bedridden and he was pretty much on his own. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade. He says when his mom recovered, she demanded he go back to school. He refused and left home, living with friends at times, homeless and without food at others.
In his late 30s, Zoerb got his GED so he could become a police officer. He says his experiences as a teenager are why he’s driven to help people.
Donations to the Emergency Needs Fund totaled $25,000 last year. Zoerb says it was enough for police officers to help about 50 families.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s three o’clock in the morning, they have access to these funds to be able to help these people. Put them up in hotels if it’s 10 degrees outside and they’re freezing under a bridge,” Zoerb said.
They’ve also developed a partnership with the group Beds For Kids. When officers come across children sleeping on a floor, they call the group for an immediate delivery of new beds and bedding. Zoerb says they helped 24 families with bedding last year.
“We’ll help unload the truck and put it in the homes so we can build relations with the community to let them know we (police) are human too, and let them know that we care and want to help,” Zoerb said.
Now Zoerb runs the Emergency Needs Fund full time and is on call 24/7 to approve officers’ requests for assistance. He’s still a sworn officer but is no longer getting paid, by his choice. Zoerb wanted to devote himself full time to the fund, and can afford to do so because he has a car dealership in Georgia. He says he’s excited about the fund’s future and noted that he’s already raised more than half of what the fund received in donations last year.