In 2018, I had the privilege of participating in a leadership journey in Israel through the Schusterman Foundation’s REALITY program. I went on the Empower Journey – which was a leadership development experience that brought together leaders from across the globe in the poverty alleviation sector to deepen our understanding of how to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and informed by REALITY’s commitment to repairing the world (tikkun olam), alumni were given access to micro-grants to meet an urgent need through a project of our own design. As the Regional Program Director in Chicago, I saw firsthand the magnitude of how COVID-19 was impacting LIFT families on the Southside of Chicago. LIFT-Chicago’s office is in the Greater Bronzeville community, an underserved and crime-affected neighborhood where roughly 30% of residents live below the Federal Poverty Line and the median annual household income is $34,000. In mid-March, after transitioning to virtual coaching, LIFT sent out a needs assessment to families to gather information and make an informed decision on how to alter programing quickly. Internal data collected from over 200 LIFT families revealed that 61% of parents anticipated falling short on their food budget for the month, while 53% named rent, 48% named utilities and other household bills, and 18% named childcare as their greatest needs. In their own words:
- I cannot earn income. The shop where I work closed for the next 3-5 weeks.
- Frankly, I’m scared. I’m an asthmatic with no health insurance who recently just started back working in January. I’m trying to catch up and now this.
- What is going to happen when the food we stored runs out? We have little space at home which makes it more difficult, all of us at home in small space, but it’s a situation that we’re just trying to live through. God willing, it will be over soon.
The impact is heart-breaking but through generosity and collaboration, we have been able to get emergency aid to families – both cash and supplies. In partnership with the IL Cash Coalition, Family Independence Initiative and Stand Together, we were able to get direct cash ($500) to 74 families through the #givetogethernow campaign. With the REALITY micro-grant and a matching donation from Get Better Trucks, a third party Amazon delivery company, we were able to safely deliver over $100 worth basic needs supply packs to 50 families that included cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, hand sanitizer, baby supplies, PPE, non-perishable food, and a gift card to a local grocery store. Through our partnership with Cradles to Crayons, each package had a child hygiene kit. Additionally, we were able to secure PPE from Until We Do It, founded by two REALITY alum in LA, Ari Afsar and Kene Anoliefo. Until We Do It ”operates under the belief that we can’t wait for someone else to step up and help those who are suffering in the shadows. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re delivering protective masks and supplies to populations most at-risk for COVID-19. We partner with local organizations with proven legacies of serving these groups to assess the needs of their clients, and then leverage our networks to collect the funds, supplies and resources required to respond to the challenge.”
It never ceases to amaze me that even in times of unprecedented challenges, when people and small businesses are being hit hard, our communities respond with care and compassion. Haymarket Brewery, a 3000-square foot pub and tap room, allowed us to use their backroom to sort and package items. It was enough space to pack supplies and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Get Better Trucks made deliveries free of charge while still paying their drivers. Liz Rodriguez, founder of Tails Up Chicago, went from running a dog walking business to making reusable masks for front line workers and graciously made 50 masks, one for each family, with the fabric we purchased for her to use.
On April 30, 2020 the packages went out and the responses from families came flooding in.
“Omg thank you all soooo much. LIFT has been a blessing to my son and I since this pandemic started and even before then. So many things have ran through my mind during this difficult time ( how am I going to pay this , how am I going to get to the grocery store with a two year old ,will we be safe, etc). And every time I check a email or read a text LIFT us right there giving me resources or offering help to ease the burden. I am extremely grateful for all the staff that has reached out on several occasions to check on my son and I to give us resources and much needed help. You guys have made the unbearable bearable. I wish there was a way to repay you all for all the hours of hard work. Believe me it’s appreciated. So from the bottom of our hearts my son and I would like to say thank you.” Kammika
“Got it we are sitting by the window waiting! Thank you! We appreciate everything! It sure will, I had run out of baby shampoo and soap for dishes and the mask is what I most needed to go to the store and stock up. We are so grateful! “ Maria
Nick Robinson, REALITY Sports 2019 Alum shared “While staying home is the best course of action during this pandemic, it was refreshing to be able to help in another way by packing bags of supplies to families in need. A little bit of effort on our end goes a long way.”
Acts of kindness are mutually beneficial. Thirteen volunteers, including seven REALITY alumni, spent 20 hours working together to secure donations and sort and package items, and we are grateful we were able to fill such an urgent need. Amy Potter, Head of US sponsorship at BMO Harris Bank and REALITY Sports Alum shared “I am always eager to support my community especially during complex and challenging times… I was happy to lend a hand and be a part of a caring for others which continues with our REALITY mission”.