April 08, 2002 12:00 PM

After Enron Corporation filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2 and laid off more than 4,000 employees, executive assistant Rebekah Rushing found work right away. But Rushing, 35, didn’t forget her jobless colleagues. Days later she deposited $90 in a local bank to create the Enron Ex-Employee Relief Fund Account (EERFA). “It was all I could afford,” says Rushing, who now earns $45,000—just over half her former salary—at a small energy firm. In the following weeks the fund grew sluggishly. “I prayed for guidance,” she says. “I’m not a patient person, so I assumed He was working on my patience thing.”

He may also have been working on the consciences of politicians who once accepted Enron contributions. In January New York Sen. Chuck Schumer sent EERFA an unsolicited donation of $68,857—the amount by which the Houston-based energy giant and its auditing firm, Arthur Andersen, enriched his campaign. The fund has since ballooned to more than $287,000, with an estimated 75 percent coming from pols on both sides of the aisle.

So far Rushing’s fund has aided 232 households, each of which gets up to $1,500 to pay bills plus up to $500 for groceries. “I was a bit embarrassed to ask for help,” says Danielle Dees, 29, a married mother of two and former Enron administrative assistant who received $1,152. “But this isn’t a handout. The money came from Enron to begin with.”

With 425 names on her waiting list, Rushing says she plans to keep assisting her “Enron family” through December. And her other family—husband Les, 40, a salesman, and son J.J., 15, who share her home in suburban Humble, Texas—is cheering her on. In her day planner Rushing carries a note J.J. left her one night when she was out late at an EERFA meeting: “Mom, gone to bed. I am very proud of what you are doing.”

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