On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
When the pandemic hit in March, many local nonprofits faced challenges. Like a lot of people, they took a financial hit. They also had their operations disrupted, and at the same time, thousands more area residents found themselves in dire need of their help.
Many area nonprofits found ways to step up, creating networks of care, helping the government scale up assistance and directing corporate donations to where they were needed most. And many ordinary individuals responded creatively and compassionately as well, with everything from informal food pantries to exchanges of goods and services.
So, how are these support organizations faring today? And how can you step up to help those in need, regardless of your financial situation?
This is a broadcast of the audio from our Kojo In Your Community event on January 26, 2021. Kojo will not be taking live calls or social media questions during this show.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 where I'm broadcasting from my living room in Washington D.C. So welcome. Earlier this week we held our latest Kojo In Your Community event via Zoom. The topic this time, Neighbors Helping Neighbors. It's part of our Kojo Connects series this month focused on economic inequality. WAMU's Ally Schweitzer assisted me by moderating and sharing the questions from the attendees. A quick programing note, our next Kojo In Your Community will be on February 16th. Details on that event will soon be posted to wamu.org/events. So lookout for that. And a reminder, today's show is pre-taped. So we won't be taking calls or reading your questions or comments from social media during the broadcast. Enjoy.
KOJO NNAMDIMany local non-profit organizations faced challenges when the pandemic hit. Like a lot of people, they took a financial hit. They also had operations disrupted and at the same time thousands more area residents found themselves in dire need of their help whether because of lost income or as essential workers on the frontlines. Many local non-profits found ways to step up creating networks of care, helping the government scale up assistance and directing corporate donations to where they were needed most. And many ordinary individuals responded creatively and compassionately as well with everything from informal food pantries to exchanges of goods and services.
KOJO NNAMDISo how are these support organizations faring today and how can you step up to help those in need regardless of your financial situation? So welcome to Kojo In Your Community: Neighbors Helping Neighbors. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Joining us now is Tonia Wellons, the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation, a public charity organization that's been helping D.C. area communities since 1973.
KOJO NNAMDIShe joins us from her home in Upper Marlborough, Maryland. Tonia Wellons, thank you for joining us.
TONIA WELLONSHi, Kojo. Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWalter Smith is the Executive Director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a non-profit organization founded in 1994 that's dedicated to solving public policy problems facing the D.C. Capital region. He joins us from his office in Northwest D.C. Walter Smith, thank you for joining us.
WALTER SMITHThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, I'll start with you. What is the Greater Washington Community Foundation? And what is its mission?
WELLONSThanks, Kojo. So the Community Foundation envisions a Greater Washington region that is equitable, just and enriching place for people to live, work and thrive. And we're able to accomplish that by providing community leadership, inspiring local giving, promoting civic engagement and guiding strategic philanthropy. I'll say through the course of the pandemic we've acted as a community quarterback by helping to shepherd both individual and institutional gifts and then making them available to non-profits in our community.
NNAMDIYou last joined us at the end of July for a virtual Kojo In Your Community. It was on the struggle of low wage workers and the increase in need the Greater Washington community was seeing. How have things been since then and has the need continued to increase?
WELLONSSo that's interesting. I'd say that things are a little bit better today than they were back in July. You know, in July we were still trying to sort the spread of the pandemic. Many restaurants and other places were closing. Non-profits were still struggling trying to figure out how to make their -- to meet their bottom line. PPP loans were just come out, but were still being resolved and settled. So so many things were still at play in July that I think have settled just a bit now. Non-profits pivoted very nicely and very quickly to be able to respond to immediate needs. We really worked hard to get cash into hands of workers who were unemployed or excluded and who needed it. Pop-up food pantries as you mentioned, Kojo, were established. Mutual aid societies were organized.
WELLONSPeople really stepped up to help people then. And now, you know, we're still trying to sort some of the same challenges and I'd say some new challenges. And we can talk about those through the course of this conversation, but some of the new challenges remain around I'd say, distance learning, a lot of uncertainty about the future. You know, some jobs have returned and many have not. There's still the looming challenge of evictions and eviction prevention, and then food. I'd say food and food insecurity remains one of the biggest direct service challenges before us, because of a broad number of both needs and challenges in the distribution system.
NNAMDIWell, the last time you joined us you also mentioned that the silver lining in all of this was the outpouring of giving from our communities, individuals, organizations, businesses. Has that level of giving continued throughout?
WELLONSIt's changed. You know, surge giving in our region really, really responds well both nationally and locally to emergencies. When there is a crisis we are there. And I'm really proud of the way that our community responds. I will say that a lot of the surge giving has tempered. We received so much of it. The really rough estimate is upwards of $40 million in the first four or five months of the pandemic. That's like the total that we received through the Community Foundation and we were able to disperse it really quickly.
WELLONSNow I'd say that philanthropists and philanthropy are being a lot more deliberate and thoughtful about kind of what they're investing in. They're trying to reassess what the needs are. There's a real strong interest in trying to balance, understand what local government, state government and federal government investments will do and where the gaps are. And so I'd say that it has slowed, but there's still a commitment to making sure that our community remains shored up.
NNAMDIWalter Smith, what is D.C. Appleseed's mission and why was it founded?
SMITHWell, our mission is an ambitious one. We try to support people who live and work in the D.C. area. And our organization was started like 26 years ago or something like that. It was started by a bunch of pro bono lawyers who wanted to draw on the resources from professionals who would volunteer their time to help address some of the most pressing needs facing the city, which means that we've been involved in education, healthcare, democracy, the environment, gun safety, criminal reform. Almost every issue facing the city, we and our pro bono partners have been engaged in.
NNAMDIHow did your mission and how did your focus change when the pandemic began last March, Walter?
SMITHWell, I'll echo some of what Tonia said. All of a sudden the needs of people who live and work in the city grew exponentially. And as part of that one of the things we were asked to do was a request that came from the Community Foundation itself. We were asked to look specifically at what the needs were in the city of frontline workers. And we undertook to investigate that, again, working with pro bono partners. I would like to mention Hogan Lovells, Covington & Burling. And we interviewed widely. We talked to a lot of stakeholders. We talked to a lot of hospitals and others who were part of working with frontlines workers. And as Tonia knows after three or four months, we issued a report laying out what was going on with the frontline workers.
SMITHAnd if you'll let me continue a minute to what we then wanted to do to support the workers. It occurred to us because as Tonia said the pandemic has been changing throughout the many months we've been facing it. And as the pandemic changed, the needs of the workers changed. It wasn't one size fits all. It depends on which kind of workers you were talking about. So we had the idea of trying to start an up to date clearing house website that we partnered with Amazon to start this website.
SMITHAnd the website was designed to do a couple of things. One was to provide in one place what all of the resources were available to the workers, who needed help in some department. Whether it was childcare or transportation or food or whatever it was by category, we would show on the website what had been volunteered so far. And others who wanted to volunteer resources could do so. But at the same time we were interested in neighbors helping neighbors, we wanted to provide an opportunity for people who live and work in the city or in the region to make cash donations, because one of the greatest needs that some of the workers had is for additional cash for all kinds of purposes.
SMITHSo we provided an opportunity for people just to make a cash donation to support the workers. And the way the website works is that the cash donations that come in, we channel directly to the other partners that we have on the ground, who are themselves supporting the workers. I'm talking about Dream Center, Martha's Table, Mary's Center, the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities. We're directing the cash donations to them and they in turn then provide the support for the workers.
SMITHAnd both of the things we're trying to do, Kojo, have worked out very well. There are a lot of resources available. More over time have become available and we've heard from a lot of workers who have used the website to find what was available mostly in the area of childcare, sometimes in the area of mental health support. And we've been gratified by the fact that although Tonia gets millions of dollars from different places, we were trying to focus on small donations from individuals.
NNAMDIWe're going to dig deeper into that website frontlineworker.org.
SMITHOkay. I would have never stopped talking if you hadn't interrupted me.
NNAMDIBecause I know and because you're comfortable at home, I realize now I'm going to have to interrupt you a lot more. But briefly tell us, how do you define frontline workers?
SMITHWhat a good question. There are lots of different people have defined this differently. We've started off thinking of mostly healthcare workers, people in the hospitals and hospital centers. But as we investigated we found that a lot of people said, why are you limiting it to that? There are a lot of other people, who are frontline, grocery workers, transportation workers, people working in childcare centers, people working in long term care centers.
SMITHSo the definition is broad. Kojo, by our count there are almost 50,000 at least frontline workers. And we left it to our partners who are already serving these people to define exactly which of these workers was most in need to whom they could then channel the cash donations.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, you have a question for us?
ALLY SCHWEITZERYeah. Alexandria in Bethesda says, "I have a company that helps people downsize. Often we have perfectly serviceable and quite nice furniture and household belongings for donations. The sticking point is always finding timely transportation and labor and organizations that can get these items into the stream as soon as possible." So Alexandria is asking do the panelists have any thoughts on this type of donation.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, thoughts.
WELLONSSure. There are a number of non-profits in our region who are, you know, willing to accept gently used donations, furniture, etcetera, and we can name some in the chat. They've been overwhelmed, because people have been home and cleaning out their homes and making donations, but a number of good organizations. And, Walter, you might have some specifically that are still accepting, because many have had to slow down because of the overwhelming number of gifts that have been offered.
SMITHYeah. I hope she'll go on our website so we can actually list what she has available. And then in turn there will be workers, who can go to the website to see if they wanted to access it.
NNAMDIAny more, Ally?
SCHWEITZERYeah. We have one from Geann or Gean -- I apologize, who says, "In August, I knew that I wanted to make a significant difference in at least one life during COVID-19. At that time the Washington Post ran an article on the Reddit mutual aid subgroup. That became a big avenue for me for helping outside of our D.C. area. Are the panelists familiar with this group or others like it where individuals post their immediate requests for help and needs and are there other groups like this the panelists would recommend to listeners?
SMITHI would urge her to go to some of the people we are working with right now who are delivering services for the people most in need. And there are a lot of them. But I'll just mention our partners are Martha's Table and Mary's Center and the Green Center and the Leadership Council. And there are many others like that Bread to the City. There are a number of organizations, who are great conduits to provide resources that are brought to them and then in turn give those resources to those most in need.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, people of color were disproportionately affected by the pandemic in terms of COVID infections and death rates, but also economically. Last month, U.S. employers cut over 140,000 jobs and Black and Latino women accounted for nearly all of the job losses while white men and women gained jobs. How do we reverse those trends?
WELLONSWe reverse those trends by being far more targeted in our services and in our investments. I think it's -- gone are the days where we can say we want to, you know, support all communities. We really have to zero in on communities that are being disproportionately impacted, because they've been disproportionately sort of under resourced or underserved over many, many generations. And I just think it's time for us to be brutally honest about that. We will never really get to resolving an issue that we don't face head-on.
WELLONSI will say that we were very targeted in our COVID-19 response work. We knew that specific communities were going to be hit hard or harder than others and we also knew that many non-profits particularly non-profits that were led by people of color would also be hit exceptionally harder. And so we made a deliberate decision to make sure that we were shoring up, focusing on and supporting both communities and organizations that were being -- that were led by people of color with intention, giving them the support they need to provide direct services to a community.
WELLONSAnd at some point -- Kojo, and you can tell me when -- we do have some data points on some of the impact, because it's really important that we talk about both the giving that was done, which we are pretty excited about. We're really excited about, but also some of the impact that we're seeing of some of that giving. So you tell me when I can talk to that.
NNAMDIAt some point usually means, I'm ready to talk about this now.
WELLONSWhenever you like. (laugh)
NNAMDISo, please, go ahead.
WELLONSSure. Thank you. I appreciate that. So 57 percent of the grants that were issued were issued to organizations that were led by people of color. We estimate that we served over 240,000 people in our region. About 6,000 of them received pro bono legal services. Close to 4,000 received domestic and community violence support services. A little over 1,000 shelter and housing, nearly 300,000 meals or food boxes were distributed. Forty thousand people were provided with emergency cash assistance, 100,000 people provided remote learning supports and nearly $2 million in PPE units were purchased to support frontline workers in our region. Like that's what those dollars translated to. Like, that's what gets me really excited about how our community responded.
WELLONSBut it also is telling about kind of the path that we have ahead. You know, we can't treat this pandemic like it's over with. We're still in the middle of it. But I really wanted to celebrate the work of our non-profit community that was fueled by both individual and institutional donors in our region.
NNAMDIWalter Smith, what did you discover about the biggest needs of the essential workers and how has that changed throughout the pandemic? And can you talk about the response you've been seeing across the region in terms of people wanted to help donating money, goods, time?
SMITHWell, I think the response has been good so far. I wanted it to be great. As Tonia said, the support has come in waves as the pandemic has changed, but the needs of the frontline workers have stayed significant. And some of the categories where the needs seem to be greatest are childcare support, actually mental health services support is a great need. Transportation can be a great need.
SMITHAnd just building on something that Tonia said a minute ago, not only are people of color being disproportionately hit by the pandemic, but you should know that the frontline workers here in the District of Columbia are 61 percent Black. And a significant number of these people are low income people who have been working every day in stressful situations where a lot of folks, who are much better off are working remotely, and have not been hit nearly as hard. And those are the people who need to be making contributions. Can I give the name of our website here? Is this a time to say where people could go to make contributions?
NNAMDIAbsolutely not. No, go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead. (laugh)
SMITHFrontlineworkersdc.org, one word, frontlineworkersdc.org. If you need something go there. If you can offer something, go there.
SCHWEITZERI have a really great question from Gretchen in Hill East who asks -- actually it's a comment and a question. "I appreciate the role of social service organizations, but my question is about government. I've lived in D.C. for over a decade, and I really want to understand better how to advocate for better local services and programs. We have a Democratically led city." I think that's "Democrat" with a capital "D." "But I have not seen a commitment to affordable and equitable housing and economic development," Gretchen says, "living wages for all workers and police reform. How can I help my neighbors and effectively advocate for a more equitable and just government?"
NNAMDIWell, you know, one of the people, who I think founded the D.C. Appleseed Center was one Ralph Nader and if that is correct, Walter Smith, that is an example of activism that you can build on in response to that question.
SMITHAbsolutely, absolutely. And if that lady wants to contact us about trying to get involved she can do that. I'm happy to talk to her. I'm happy to direct her to other organizations. As Tonia knows, there are lots and lots of advocacy organizations here in the District of Columbia trying to move this city forward in the areas that I just heard Ally mention. I think the city has come a long way on a lot of those programs. But there is still a long way to go. And I should add that this program is about the pandemic. The pandemic has hit the District government also.
SMITHThe District government has taken an enormous hit in its own revenue, which has forced it to make hard choices with regard to the areas where they devote their own government services, which, again, is why we're here to talk about private citizens, businesses, foundations and others. Step up to the plate now to help fill the gap.
NNAMDIAnother one, Ally Schweitzer.
SCHWEITZERAnna in Northwest Washington asks, "I'm looking for ways to serve the community. I don't have a car or much disposable income, but I am able to dedicate my time. What would the panelists suggest for people like me?"
WELLONSSure. I'd say the Mayor's Office on volunteer service. I think it's called Serve D.C. It's run by a good friend. And in the District they are always looking for ways to match people who are interested in volunteers, with volunteer opportunities. I also offer a number of the food banks, who are again, still looking for volunteers, because of the demand for distribution, food banks and food distribution centers around the entire region. But Serve D.C. should be a go to for this caller.
NNAMDITonia, throughout this pandemic we've seen individuals stepping up. Neighbors helping neighbors creating networks of care in their communities, how important have people like that been to those in need?
WELLONSHugely important. You know, I think it just speaks to -- in the time of so much political turmoil, it has been heartening to see neighbors just really wanted to -- particularly those who have access to resources, who were able to maintain their jobs or who did really well because the stock market performed very well for those who were invested to be able to make their disposable income available to -- disposable income and time available to those who were in need. Again, mutual aid societies and communities of faith, you know, regular neighbors just kind of pooling their efforts and tools and resources together were, I think, a huge benefit. And not just for what they were able, but also for sort of the esprit de corps -- the spirit of community, which people need.
WELLONSMany people suffered from loneliness and isolation during this time. And sort of the helping hand or the extra cash really helped to bridge a number of both social emotional gaps alongside economic and basic need gaps.
NNAMDILet's go back to frontlineworkersdc.org, the website you created with help from Amazon, the D.C. government and others, as you mentioned a kind of clearing house for all the resources available to the frontline workers. And you mentioned, you gave out the name of the website and people have been showing interest in that website. But how did Amazon and the D.C. government help to create it and are helping to maintain that frontlineworkersdc.org website?
SMITHWell, Amazon worked very closely with us to setup the website. They were a great partner with us, helped us design it, helped us to get it rolling. The D.C. government was not part of getting it rolling, although, the mayor did endorse it. We talked to the mayor and her people early on about what we were going to do. And since then -- the website went live Thanksgiving week in November, and we have volunteers, a whole bunch of them, from our pro bono law firms who are maintaining the website. So that as people go on the website if they have questions, if they want to know about resources, if someone wants to volunteer new resources, this is our way of keeping the thing completely up to date as needs change, as resources become available. So, it's been a great interactive, but real-time operation.
NNAMDIWho has been contributing, individuals or businesses? And what is the average amount donated?
SMITHIt's nearly all individuals. And the average is around -- because we've got several in the thousands, the average is around 250. But the majority of the contributions are small, $100 or less, which means two things. One is, we're not going to have millions of dollars, but on the other hand, I think it's a great opportunity for people who can't afford a lot, who want to give a little, to go on the website and give a small amount. Because given the needs of the workers, even small amounts -- for workers in great need, a small amount of money can do a lot of good.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Fanny Laske-Salazar, a volunteer in Herndon, Virginia and a Patch Local Hero. She's one of those individuals who stepped up in her community. She joins us from her home in Herndon, Virginia. Fanny, welcome. You work part-time at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority and you're a full-time parent. Heroic jobs, no doubt, but it was your volunteer work that got you recognized as a Patch Local Hero. When the pandemic began and people were being laid off or had their hours reduced, what did you do?
FANNY LASKE-SALAZARI was thinking when the pandemic start, how I can make a difference. I started walking in the street and thinking (unintelligible). In the corner where we live in Herndon, Virginia, I found a truck was there, giving food away. And I said, oh, wow, that's a sign. So, I went there and I say, oh, do you need help for volunteers. I speak Spanish, too. So, that was (unintelligible), and I just -- I volunteered.
FANNY LASKE-SALAZARIt's just been amazing being able to help families, really. We have a group of great friends and, you know, we get together and we see what we can do. And we have good organizations around the area, Cornerstone, She Believed in Me, (unintelligible). So, there's so much things that can be done.
NNAMDIYou are a frontline volunteer. You're talking directly to neighbors, talking directly to people in your community. What sorts of things are people in need of right now?
LASKE-SALAZAROh, my God. It's a lot of things they need right now, what they've done. Especially rent, especially -- they very, very struggle to pay rent, at this moment, because they losing jobs, at this moment. People can go ask for a box of food, and they give it to them, but it's the families that are living in a small bedroom apartment. Even they get a box of food, they not able to go cook the meals in the kitchen.
LASKE-SALAZARSo, as a single mother I being spoke with very, very single mothers. They need diapers, they need so much stuff, simple stuff. So, we give cups, clothes away, we give the clothes away, we give the food away. Like I say, sometimes we forgot the ones that living in one room, big family. Especially, they can have a lot of supermarkets (unintelligible), but if we have a family, five members, three children (unintelligible), it's too expensive for them to go to supermarket.
NNAMDIWe've been hearing a lot about selfless acts, and it is my understanding that you did not ask for presents for your birthday last year. So, what did you ask for?
LASKE-SALAZARI ask for donations every year for my birthday for a school and private organizations.
NNAMDIThat was not just last year, huh?
LASKE-SALAZARNo. (laugh) No, that's just something we do together. Always talking about teamwork. I have a group of friends, and always, I reach out to them, thank you so much, because I know they can hear me. (laugh) Thank you so much, because (unintelligible) really, really, we can do this. I can't do this by myself. Always, I reach to people.
LASKE-SALAZARI'm very proud, this organization, because She Believes in Me is creator by a teacher, a counselor, Ms. Renee Gorman. And we make sure, we make sure we knock the door, and we leave the food outside, and we keep in touch, and Cornerstone. And, you know, it's just amazing. We can make a difference.
NNAMDIDo you have any idea how many people and families you have helped since March of last year?
LASKE-SALAZARI don't county really how many families, but it's a lot. It's a lot. When you volunteer, you don't think about it. I'm very passionate about it. If you need something and tell me Fanny, come here, because sometimes, in the weekend is not (unintelligible) better than Sundays. They called me and they said, Fanny, do you know where I can get food? I reached out to the pantry at Cornerstone, and they said, okay, come to get the food. So, I will make sure that family gets food.
LASKE-SALAZARI can go see, really, if I can make the difference and think about, wait a minute. Today, a kid is not going to have food. I can't go to sleep. So, I wake up everybody, my husband, and I say, let's go. (laugh)
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, you've got a couple more questions for us?
SCHWEITZERWell, we actually have a couple of folks who wanted to share with us what they've been doing to help their neighbors during this time. So, I want to share this one anecdote from Ann in Mount Pleasant. That's in Northwest D.C.
SCHWEITZERI've been working with a great group of neighbors (unintelligible) in Mount Pleasant. It's called Mount Pleasant Neighbors Helping Neighbors, if folks in the neighborhood want to write that down. It has volunteers to help neighbors with transportation, with shopping, etcetera, but ended up addressing the largest need, which was food aid. And Mount Pleasant Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Ann says, has provided food for 800 families a week.
SCHWEITZERAnd we had another nice story here from Jennifer in Montgomery County, who says, in up county Montgomery County, we started an organization called Community Farm Share. People can donate money to buy local vegetable farm CSA shares. That's community-supported agriculture, for those of you who don't know. The full amount of the donors' funds goes to the farms, and the actual produce is delivered weekly to families in our communities facing food insecurity. It's a win-win. Neighbors in need receive nutritious fresh produce. Local farms are supported, and the donors have the opportunity to support two important causes with one donation. So, these are some of the great things that we're hearing from folks in the community tonight.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, there continues to be a lot of people in need in our region and across the country with no real end in sight. But you and the greater Washington community can't help everyone. How frustrating, how disheartening is that for you?
WELLONSIt's a challenge, you know, because I think Fanny is noting the need, the callers who are sharing what they're doing in community are noting the need. I want to say that, you know, someone mentioned how can we advocate for, you know, local government to do more. Our local governments in this region, again, have also done a fantastic job. I mean, there is far more need than there are resources, just generally. I think both the mayor's response has been admirable, along with the county executives around the entire region, in terms of what they're able to do.
WELLONSBut this was a pandemic that we did not anticipate, plan for. And it just shows how thin margins are across all sectors, I'd say, in this entire community, including the private sector, who has also stepped up in important and amazing ways. A number of the restaurants, even as they were closing down, pivoted to be able to provide, you know, food service in a philanthropic way. They used their workers where they could, to volunteer around meal preparation and distribution.
WELLONSSo, I think, you know, everyone is doing the best that they can. I really cannot offer too many complaints about how we're responding. It's just not enough. And you're absolutely right, Kojo. The end is not very -- the end of this is not -- it's just not very clear. And with that, I think that there are some things that we can predict that will be, you know, going back to, quote-unquote, "normal." But some things are going to stay with us for a little while longer. I mean, I think the full recovery of the economy is not something that's going to be back to normal in six months.
WELLONSThere are, you know, issues around, I'd say, broadband access, returning to school, childcare, as Walter had mentioned many times now. Those things are still going to be needs that people in our community will still have, as the economy slowly returns. I mean, again, COVID put a bright light on many of these existing issues in our community and in our region. And it's going to be up to us that we not go back to the same situation that we left in a pre-COVID world. We have to think about, how can we build back differently and better and build more resiliency into our social and economic fabric?
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, it's my understanding that you have a question from our resident analyst on The Politics Hour, Tom Sherwood.
SCHWEITZERI do. Tom Sherwood asked -- well, he's actually making a little bit of an observation, too, of course, because it's Tom Sherwood. He said, Walter Smith just said there are lots and lots of organizations in D.C. trying to help. And Tom wants to know, should some of these organizations be consolidated to better focus their services and use of funds? Basically, he's suggesting there are too many organizations helping people in the city. Should they be consolidated?
SMITHWell, maybe, but we're at a moment, I think, when all of the organizations that are there now are doing the best they can to step up to the plate. And they're all doing it in different ways. And, you know, maybe at some future time, when we can relax a little bit. I've heard what Tom is raising, an idea I've heard lots of times over the years -- I'm sure Tonia has, as well -- that if we were more systematic within the nonprofit community, that we could better serve our community. And that may be true.
SMITHBut my opinion is, this is not the moment to try to be doing that. But at the same time -- and, to me, this is the key point -- everybody can be doing something now to try to help. You can do wonderful stuff like I hear Fanny is doing. You can organize a neighborhood group that I've heard Ally talk about is going on. There's a lot of that going on. And you may be just one person, though, and you want to do something. Contact an organization. Contact your neighborhood. Go on the website that I've mentioned and see what you can contribute. I think this is the moment when everyone needs to be part of this great community of ours and do what you can to help.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of the things that Fanny Laske-Salazar has been doing, Ally Schweitzer has a tribute.
SCHWEITZERThis is from -- this is great. It's from Micheline in Fairfax, who just wants to give a shout out to Fanny, who says, Fanny is one of the most selfless people that I have ever met. She has been a community angel for many years and has the capacity to mobilize the whole community on behalf of those who need support. I have known her for the past 15 years, and she has always been dedicated to the wellbeing of others. Good on you, Fanny, from Micheline.
NNAMDIAnd that is precisely why Fanny came to our attention. Tonia Wellons, there are state, local and federal eviction moratoriums and protections, but will they end at some point? And how are you preparing for that day?
WELLONSThey will end at some point. Hopefully not in the immediate future, but they will end at some point. There are a number of efforts underway now to plan for that future point. I think, again, it's going to take all of us. It's going to take landlords, tenants, local government and, to some extent, philanthropy in the private sector, to preserve affordable housing in our region and to prevent the potential for thousands of people in our region to lose their homes.
WELLONSAgain, this is an unprecedented situation that we're faced with. And we realize that everybody is impacted, but some people are impacted even more. So, many landlords are suffering. Fortunately, there has been relief to landlords, to owners and, in some instances, to tenants. And so, it's going to require all of us working this out to prevent mass evictions in the months ahead.
WELLONSI am a part of the mayor's strike force that's considering that and really looking at, okay, how do we use the federal resources that are coming our way? How do we think about local resources? What will we need, you know, landlords to do differently? Tenants who are able and have some availability to pay a portion? And we're just going to have to work it out. It's going to require some important negotiations to prevent mass housing loss and evictions in our region.
NNAMDIWalter Smith, back to your partnership with Amazon. At the height of the pandemic over the summer, while millions were suffering, Amazon posted its highest profits in its 26-year history. They've also been criticized for how their workers were treated, with 20,000 employees contracting the virus over a six-month period. Were you, at some point, maybe reluctant to work with Amazon and to accept the help of the company?
SMITHWell, actually, we weren't. I think precisely for some of the reasons you had said, Amazon has been trying to do more, as a community citizen. As Tonia knows, there were contributions coming from Amazon to support a lot of the relief efforts here in this region and in other places. And so, I didn't want to say we're not going to let you do this good thing to work with us on the website, because you've could've done more before.
SMITHIt was good they were doing what they wanted to do, and I think what they have done with us and in other places are helping to meet the pandemic. Yes, they could do more. There are a lot of businesses out there that I think could be doing more, but I want to work with what I've got.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, some say that our governments have failed us, that we shouldn't have to rely on the private sector and the generosity of individuals and companies during these unprecedented times. What would be your reaction to that?
WELLONSI would say that I'm not confident that that's a government-only failure. I think it's a bit of a systems failure across many systems. And the fact that we have allowed issues of systemic racism to persist for generations, and it shows up in how people are paid. It shows up in the healthcare access that is not available in communities. It shows up in food deserts. It shows up in education. It shows up in prison systems, and it shows up in violence in communities. It shows up in a lack of mental health. And so, these are systems issues that have cut across government, private sector and even philanthropy.
SCHWEITZERWe have a question from Tonya in Tacoma Park, who's actually coming at it from the side of folks who need assistance. And Tonya wants to know how people who are looking for assistance, what's the best way for, say, a resident of Tacoma Park to find a place to get rental assistance, to get direct cash assistance, to get food, to get clothing? Do you have any good recommendations in that part of the region?
WELLONSSure. I'd offer a couple of things. Of course, the Capital Area Food Bank is running food pantries and food distribution cross the entire region. In Montgomery County, we are working with the county government on an initiative called Food for Montgomery, where we're really looking at how do we connect both restaurants, food distribution, providers, and meet the needs alongside churches and other communities of faith of people in Montgomery County, for example.
WELLONSThere are -- I would start at the Capital Area Food Banks website when it comes to food, and at the county level, looking at opportunities for rental assistance, both at -- well, if you're in D.C., you look at the city government's sites. And if you're in one of the surrounding jurisdictions, looking at the local jurisdiction site around rental assistance. Many of the county governments and local governments are partnering with nonprofits to help to respond to the broad range of needs.
WELLONSAnd then there are numerous nonprofits, and you can visit our website at thecommunityfoundation.org and look at the list of nonprofits that we are supporting who continue to do amazing work in responding to the needs of the community across the region.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, a comment?
SCHWEITZERYeah, we have a tip from Andrea, who says: You can volunteer in your local neighborhood by contacting your local senior village. You can help build community, serve your neighbors by helping them get groceries, drive them to doctors appointments, help with technology, you know, change light bulbs. The 13 local villages throughout the D.C. community also offer virtual programming to socially engage older adults. This is something that is regional, so anybody who's interested in learning more about villages, there's plenty of information about them online, and they are throughout our community.
NNAMDIFor everyone listening and wondering how to help their neighbor, what do you tell them? How can people help, regardless of their financial situation? I'll start with you, Walter.
SMITHThere are a lot of neighborhoods who've already been mentioned. I think if you want to help in your neighborhood, most neighborhood groups organize. Most neighborhoods have, not someone as good as Fanny, but someone like Fanny, who is trying to do something in their neighborhood. If what you want to do is just contribute to something, I do want to go back to helping the frontline workers. If you just want to make a donation, you can do that.
SMITHYou can make donations to a lot of nonprofits in the city who are good at this. They know how to channel dollars. They know how to channel other in-kind contributions you might want to make. If you can offer services, if you can offer goods, if you can offer (unintelligible), there are lots and lots of nonprofits in the city who do that every day for a living. And as Tonia said, the need remains great. And if you want to volunteer, there are ways for you to do it.
NNAMDIFanny Laske-Salazar, from what I understand, you have been helping people all your life. What drives you to do it? What drives you to help those in need?
LASKE-SALAZARMy dad inspired me to do that, because my dad was a helping person. I think sometimes, for me, I born with that. I think I born with that. And, you know, having my family, my friends, they support me. We can make the difference, you know. For me was, when I moved here from New York, was working in frontline organizations close to me, and was volunteer there. And after that, I met so many people in here in all of Virginia, in Herndon and Reston.
LASKE-SALAZARAnd I continue volunteer for Cornerstone. She believed in me, or local organizations. So, if you want to create a group, what's up? What's up? That is my family, and I invite everybody. So, like I say, we can make the difference. We can create a group. If you be out there (unintelligible), I'm here. We can create any groups. Like. you have to have a heart, and remember, we are brothers and sisters, really. We all in the same thing. We going through so much right now. We can do this together.
NNAMDITonia Wellons, for people who may not be able to afford it, financially, what do you suggest about how they might, nevertheless, be able to help people?
WELLONSI think Fanny is a great example of someone who has decided to use their talents and gifts to help people who are in need. I think we should follow Fanny's example. Again, connect to your community of faith or to your neighborhood association. I always say you can start by checking on your next door neighbor, particularly those who are, you know, elderly, you know, parents who might need a few hours of break from their kids who they might be homeschooling.
WELLONSI mean, it really is going back to old values of what it means to live in community and to be in relation with each other. So, I'm excited that even in the midst of so much challenge, that people are doing that. I'll mention very quickly on this, you know, are there too many things going on? And I agree with Walter. Now is the time to lean in and do more, where we can. You know, most of the groups that we're talking about are largely organized informally. And so that should persist for as long as is needed and required, and hopefully even beyond this pandemic.
WELLONSAnd nonprofit organizations are really just, you know, doing so much work. I want to give a big shoutout to them and to their staff and their team members who've been working nonstop, you know, since before March, but, you know, at a different pace since the pandemic began.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, you have another comment.
SCHWEITZERYes, we do. We have just -- folks wanted to tell us more about what they're doing in their community. And this is from Pamela, who says: In better times, the WNBC Education Foundation worked with a number of schools in D.C. In April, we learned that students and families in one of the schools were especially hard-hit, and many needed food. So, we launched Food for D.C. Kids and have distributed more than 11,000 meals to needy students and their families. Thank you for that, Pamela.
NNAMDIDuring recessions, things like the arts often get ignored or get their funding cut. Can you talk about what you're doing to prevent that from happening with the Arts Forward Fund?
WELLONSThe Arts Forward Fund was a partnership of a number of foundations, including (unintelligible) and a number of foundations who put in resources to shore up small art houses that were, again, disproportionately impacted throughout the region. And it was a million-dollar fund. We're expecting, very soon, to do another round of funding to support the arts and the arts community.
WELLONSThere is not enough. Again, I think the arts community is one of the hardest-hit and, you know, we will do our best to do whatever we can to continue to support them. But, you know, it's going to be a bit of a while before we're able to return to the theater.
NNAMDITonia Wellons is the president and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Thank you so much for joining us.
WELLONSMy pleasure. Thank you for having me, again. And all the best. Fanny, thanks for all that you do, and to Walter, as well.
NNAMDIWalter Smith is the executive director of D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Walter, always a pleasure.
SMITHThank you very much, and I also would like to salute Tonia and Fanny. Wonderful people doing different things in different ways to help us all get through this crisis.
NNAMDIFanny Laske-Salazar is a volunteer in Herndon, Virginia and a Patch Local Hero. Fanny, thank you so much for joining us.
LASKE-SALAZARThank you for the invitation, and I'll see you next time. Don't invite me only one time. (laugh) Thank you. Thank you so much.
NNAMDIYou're more than welcome. We've heard a lot tonight about how our communities have stepped up to help our neighbors in need. Let's hope we continue to look out for one another. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic via our social media channels.
NNAMDIWe'd like to say thank you to our wonderful engineers, the Kojo Show team, especially Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Kurt Gardinier, Pyang Linzhang (sounds like) in marketing and events, and to the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for taking this show on the virtual road. We're especially grateful to WAMU's Monna Kashfi and Diane Hockenberry for their support. And thanks to you all for joining us, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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