Devon-area Pandemic Relief Fund Progress Report

Crossroads Critical Response Fund 2020 Progress Report – Chicago Desi Youth Rising

In mid-April of this year, Chicago learned that the zipcode covering our city’s South Asian neighborhood had been most severely hit by the burgeoning first wave of COVID-19. We ached to jump into action, consulting with friends and community organizations in the West Ridge neighborhood to find how best to help. We quickly learned that residents’ most urgent need was not necessarily accessible public health education or knowledge of local resources (though those also needed to be met) – but cash. Many families in the area are working-class and recent immigrants (a significant section are undocumented and thus ineligible for governmental assistance). Often, a single person was sustaining several family members through a service-sector income that had suddenly been taken from them, leaving them without savings or a safety net.

CDYR created a simple rapid response fund application in 3 languages for Devon-area service workers, prioritizing undocumented families and households with youth or seniors. We disseminated news about the application through WhatsApp messages sent to service-sector comrades in the neighborhood in multiple languages, and by alerting our community partners like the Indo American Center and the Rohingya Cultural Center. Within 4 days of opening the application, we had already received over 300 applications, with an additional 80 families signing up to our waiting list.

Through a combination of existing CDYR funds (redirected from the now-virtual annual retreat budget), a successful GoFundMe campaign supported by our community, and the Crossroads Critical Response Fund, CDYR raised a total of $35,500 for a series of no-strings-attached $500 rapid response grants.

CDYR distributed $500 grants to a total of 71 families in the West Ridge neighborhood during a crucial early period of need, with the vast majority of funds disbursed within 2 months of the application opening. This involved getting in touch with families over the phone, confirming their personal information and most convenient payment method, managing the subsequent disbursement of funds by coordinating with our fiscal sponsor, and following up to confirm the receipt of funds. All recipient households were recently immigrated families living in the West Ridge area with lost or reduced service sector employment, and the majority of families were South Asian Muslims. All recipients stated that their funds would be going directly towards immediate bills such as rent, groceries, and medical expenses.

CDYR phone banked 50 additional applicants to determine their eligibility for the City of Chicago’s Resiliency Project funds, and ultimately assisted 15 families in filling out applications for $1000 grants, in partnership with the Indo American Center.

CDYR also phone banked an additional 30 households who stated in their application that they wanted assistance in filing for unemployment, connecting some families with Senator Ram Villivalam’s office for further assistance.

For the first time in its history, CDYR executed a large-scale crowdfunding and rapid grant operation, through swift and highly coordinated work by its core volunteer collective and strong, unwavering support from our community. We explored how we could work together on a high-impact, time-sensitive project under high pressure, which enabled us to grow closer and identify our strengths and weaknesses as a unit. We also had the opportunity to grow closer to a more intergenerational, class-diverse cross section of Chicago’s South Asian community, and we had the opportunity to imagine what a future could look like where CDYR expands to house work like this more sustainably.

We were proud of how quickly we could move to answer need in our community, and how we made the structures of securing funding as accessible as possible despite the number of variables we were juggling. We were quickly overwhelmed by the number of applicants, and did our best to reach out to the applicants we were unable to assist, but beyond a few emails we were not capable of being as thorough in our reach out as we wanted to be. We also did not have the capacity to follow up with applicants after we confirmed that they had successfully received funds – in another world we may have been able to fully take advantage of this opportunity to build longer-lasting individual relationships of solidarity with our working-class applicant base, but we both do not have the current capacity to realize that potential, nor is that kind of work currently within the purview of our organization’s mission. (We aim to be youth-centered and youth-led in our work — we are working towards a future where West Ridge youth leaders are empowered to be at the helm of similar base-building efforts, housed by CDYR.)

Our most glaring takeaway, of course, was that despite our outsized efforts, we only managed to meet a tiny fraction of the critical need in the neighborhood — much of which has only intensified in the months since our fundraising operation. We were unable to offer grants to over 60% of the applicants on our initial list and waiting list, and we are painfully aware of how quickly we stopped accepting submissions to both. For such an overwhelming majority of these funds to immediately change hands from our grantees to their landlords is nothing short of shameful. We are renewed in our belief that rent in Chicago and across our country needs to be cancelled, healthcare needs to be universalized, and our people’s basic needs need to be met without exception, in this time of crisis and always. These demands are inextricable from our wider fight for immigrant justice and youth justice.

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