This article, written by Denise Crosby, was published in The Beacon-News on June 30, 2020. To read the article on the Chicago Tribune website, click here.
When the Fox Valley’s five largest funding groups decided to pool their money as the pandemic began to play havoc with so many lives, this quickly-formed committee of “Grantmakers” wanted to make sure they were meeting the needs of an entire community.
That’s why, among the list of 50 nonprofits that got a piece of this $600,000 pie – most are well known, like Mutual Ground, Wayside Cross, VNA, Hesed House, CASA and local food pantries – were a few more obscure nonprofits working with some of the most under-served in our area.
Have you ever heard of Sanjeevani 4 U? What about The Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project?
If not, you are hardly alone.
Julie Christman, president of the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley, which is a member of this Fox Valley Grantmakers COVID-19 Response Fund, admitted she too had not been familiar with Sanjeevani 4 U, which focuses on helping immigrants, particularly those from South Asia, gain access to resources for mental health and domestic violence issues.
But as she and other Grantmakers, which include Aurora Women’s Empowerment Foundation, Dunham Fund, Fox Valley United Way and INC Board, read its application, it became quickly apparent Sanjeevani 4 U fit their criteria: It was providing emergency money for basic human needs, such as food, shelter, safety, health and mental health, all of which had been surging because of COVID-19.
“In the last few months of COVID, our calls have tripled … they even come in the middle of the night,” noted Promila Kumar, executive director of Sanjeevani 4 U. “There are a ton of concerns out there and when they reach out to us, we can bring them a little bit of support and ways to manage their stress.”
In addition to its national helpline, Sanjeevani 4 U provides emotional therapy, works with local domestic violence shelters and offers guidance for legal issues for the growing population of immigrants who, because of cultural differences, lack of finances and insurance or awareness, too often can’t or don’t get help from the state or federal government.
Sanjeevani 4 U has been around about five years, according to Kumar, and until recently was meeting its clients at libraries in Naperville or Aurora. But the $1,000 gift from the Grantmakers not only helped start a monthly online empowerment series, the money has “gone a long way” in helping set up its new Naperville clinic, which provides face-to-face help.
The amount of individual grants, which have been sporadically dispersed since the first of April, depends upon the size of the organization, with the average amount being almost $12,000, said Christman.
The Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project (FLAP), which received close to $35,000, has been working in our area much longer: 21 years to be exact, according to Executive Director Alexandra Sossa. But like the population it serves – those who work in fields, greenhouses, food processing plants, as landscapers or city workers – FLAP is largely invisible as it toils behind the scenes to help this largely migrant population.
This community has been hit particularly hard during the coronavirus pandemic because, already working for minimal wages and facing discrimination and unjust firings even in regular times, said Sossa, her clients have jobs that make it difficult to work from home or practice social distancing. And often they are expected to show up without the protective gear necessary to keep them safe.
In addition to this grant money going toward community education, it also has put $20,000 in cash ($500 individually) into the hands of these workers to help buy groceries or put food on the table.
Other recipients of the Grantmakers include Lazarus House, which received $15,000 so guests of the St. Charles homeless shelter could temporarily move to a nearby hotel during the initial COVID outbreak; and World Relief DuPage/Aurora, which got $24,500, some of which helped set up the technology needed for better interaction with ESL teachers and students.
In all, Grantmakers collectively contributed $280,000 in seed money to launch the fund, and added another $320,000 in state and local relief aid, along with donations from more than 60 area individuals. While the fund is no longer accepting applications at this time, the coalition will continue to monitor and evaluate needs that arise as a result of the pandemic, said Christman.
The goal, to get 100% of the pooled money quickly into the hands of local individuals who, through no fault of their own, were dramatically affected by the pandemic “has exceeded our expectations,” she added.
“There’s been a lot of conversation in the philanthropic community about how do we make grant making as efficient as possible and how do we give credence and power to the non-profits who are doing the hard work,” Christman said.
At this unprecedented time in history, when so much of what’s going on around us is confusing and complex, she added, “we try to keep it simple.”