The Light at the End of the Tunnel: How Nonprofits Are Taking It Upon Themselves to Carry Us Through
March 7th was a Saturday. I took the day to run some obligatory errands. I ran to the CVS pharmacy here in Tahoe to pick up some meds for my wife who had given birth to our infant daughter just a month before. Passing through the aisles of the store, I greeted two or three people that I knew from the community and shook their hands. I grabbed some diapers off the shelf, along with some infant vitamin D, some gripe water, and a bottle of wine. New parents will know what I am referring to. I greeted the very cheery cashier, paid with a debit card, and jetted out to the car, sending the requisite waves to my friends still shopping in the store. I drove home, kissed my wife, held my baby, and went about my day.
Four weeks later...
Yesterday I bought a homemade cloth mask from a friend of mine over Instagram. Terrified of going to the grocery store, I discovered ECart at Raley’s, ordered all my groceries online and had a clerk load them into my trunk, barely acknowledging her presence except to say a most sincere thank you. What seemed like a bourgeois elitist service only a month ago, now is a means to survival. Then, I drove around town delivering birth announcements to my friends. Only a month ago this would have meant visiting each in turn, hugs, glasses of whisky neat, bawdy stories and many laughs. Now, never leaving my car, I stuff birth announcements into mailboxes and wave halfheartedly at windows in case someone is watching me, like salutations to ghosts, but not daring to go to the front door. I went home and held my baby with tremendous trepidation, pushing dark thoughts of what could happen if I am sick deep into the recesses of my anxiety-ravaged psyche.
Another one of my friends announced on Facebook they had been laid off. That makes five now, and surely more to come. This is Tahoe after all, an economy driven by tourism. No tourists = no jobs. We are looking at mass unemployment when this thing is over, as our economy was fragile to begin with. I went home and took out a list of local restaurants that are doing take out, checking off each one down the list, careful to make sure we don’t miss anyone, as the owners are our friends and are begging for customers.
I look through pictures of my life from a month ago and feel as though they are from a bygone era. It’s the same with work. What were we all working on four weeks ago? Four weeks ago the staff at my nonprofit organization, One Degree, was working as hard as ever to make the internet work for low-income families. The work was as urgent as ever, but it was a landscape we knew well. Then, everything changed.
There seemed to be a tipping point for everyone when it came to COVID-19. No one seemed to care about it, until they did. Schools closed. Businesses shut down. Workers laid off. Our CEO, Rey Faustino, hopped on a funder call with Tipping Point Community Foundation. On the call were about 50 other leaders from California nonprofit organizations. A common need that kept popping up was for reliable information about what resources were still available, especially since organizations had started closing their doors and limiting their services.
The first realization was that low-income families who depended on school lunches were now going to have to find another resource to feed their children. We at One Degree knew it was going to take a mass coordinated effort to get vital safety-net resources to the families who needed them most.
The One Degree staff stopped what they were doing and immediately shifted to creating a dynamic resource guide for people affected by COVID-19 in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County. Updated daily, the initial focus of the resource guide was basic needs such as medical, financial, and childcare resources. The goal of the guide was not just to provide low-income families with support to deal with this unique crisis, but also to combat misinformation, and give our nonprofit partners a fighting chance at survival.
The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting nonprofit organizations like a nuclear bomb. Small direct-service organizations like dining halls and drop-in centers are dependent on small dollar donations and fundraising events for their survival. With all events cancelled, massive sources of revenue for these orgs are suddenly gone. Nonprofit orgs on the front line of this crisis are on average now laying off 19% of their staff. These are essential services in our communities that simply cannot sustain a loss of funding like this, especially at a time when they are needed so critically.
Even as we hunker down and alter our individual lives, we are presented with the reality that the ability to work from home, the ability to socially distance or shelter-in-place, is in itself a tremendous privilege. We would not be able to survive this pandemic without the courage of our essential workers: grocery store clerks, pharmacy workers, farm workers, delivery drivers, and of course our doctors, nurses and first responders. If there is any good that can come out of this crisis, it should be the recognition that our society is driven by workers, not by CEO’s. The tepid response from our federal government to protect and preserve the working class in this country when compared to their response to save the corporate class is jarring to say the least. It indicates that citizens are not the priority for many of our elected representatives.
Local communities are quickly figuring out how to fend for themselves without federal support. Nonprofit organizations are stepping up, with the limited resources they have, to see our communities through this trying time. Help is coming from the bottom, not the top, but the help that is coming has been astounding to witness. Immediately after shelter-in-place orders came down and nonprofits began to feel the heat of a collapsing economy, major foundations like California Community Foundation, Tipping Point, Stupski, Kresge, Walter and Elise Haas Fund, San Francisco Foundation, All Stars Helping Kids, and many more, began reaching out to their grantees asking what they could do to help. These foundations, themselves wrought with the fiscal effects of the downturn, are setting aside millions of dollars in assets to help see the front-line organizations through this.
We at One Degree are honored to do our part for our communities. We are lucky enough to come into this crisis from a position of strength. Our values as an organization dictate that we use our strength to lift up others. Though we are not a disaster response organization, our team of engineers, resource specialists, community navigators, and volunteers stepped up and did what they do best. Working around the clock for four days, our team put the guide together from scratch. In LA County, One Degree joined forces with a group of public health grad students from Cal State Los Angeles and LA County Department of Health Services who graciously turned over all their resources to One Degree to create the LA COVID-19 Resource Guide. The COVID-19 dynamic resource guide is live at 1degree.org/covid19, with more resources for families added every day. We are now shifting our focus from the immediate crisis, to the more downstream effects of the economic slowdown, including the disastrous effects of so many people out of work.
We will get through this crisis by lifting each other up. The question is not what were we doing four weeks ago, the question is, what will we be doing four weeks from now? How much will the world change in the next month? When we come through this thing, will we be able to say we did everything we could to help our community members in need? I am proud to work for a nonprofit organization that is fighting for the light at the end of the tunnel.