Friday, January 21, 2022
Jan. 21, 2022

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When the Winds Blow


I grew up in Taiwan where jet streams led to beautiful weather, delicious seafood, abundant fruit and vegetables, but also triggered typhoons that disrupted everything in their path. I remember one incident where 100 mph winds hurled broken billboard pieces through our home’s windows. In many ways, 2020 has felt like a series of typhoons—between the wildfires, political divisiveness, continued experiences of injustice that sparked protests and increased feelings of division, and COVID-19—leaving no aspect of life untouched.

Nonprofits continue to face the impact of these
winds. The need for their services has skyrocketed:

• Demand has doubled and tripled for nonprofits serving the houseless and low-income individuals. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 12.4 million (1 in 6 adult renters), are behind on payments. According to the National Low-income Housing Coalition, 6 million households face potential eviction as 2021 begins. This does not account for those who already lost their homes or those at risk of financial collapse should they be exposed to COVID-19 and be forced to quarantine or have unexpected medical expenses.

• Food insecurity is rampant. Food banks report a 40-percent or more increase in clients. Researchers at Northwestern University found that food insecurity has more than doubled nationwide among households with children, from more than 5 million children in 2019, to more than 10 million children in 2020. Local nonprofits
and faith-based groups are stepping up to serve
this need by collecting and distributing food.

• While some help is out there (food banks, unemployment funds and other government aid), not everyone has access to these resources. Language, literacy and technology barriers persist—and prevent people from accessing available resources. Imagine having no internet access. How would you know what resources are available or what forms you need to fill out? What if you can’t read or understand the language on forms? Federally funded relief programs like SNAP (also known as food stamps) provided an average of $129 per month in 2019 (per person in need); however, it limits eligibility to U.S. citizens and documented non-citizens who have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years (with a few exceptions). This prevents many from accessing food. If you are a documented immigrant or refugee who has been in the U.S. for fewer than 5 years, or if you are in a mixed household of one documented parent and one undocumented, you cannot access this assistance to feed your children. Nonprofits share stories of immigrants who are afraid to seek help from food banks because they fear drawing attention—even if they are documented.

Here are the harsh realities people in our communities are facing: Thousands of children and families need help; women and people of color are impacted disproportionately, and we are seeing a surge of mental health issues across many demographics.

In times such as these, a Chinese proverb rings true: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” Every day we see examples of our nonprofit community rallying to build windmills:

  • With social distancing making in-person therapy difficult, many mental health providers quickly converted individual and group therapy sessions to virtual.
  • Blending art with technology, arts organizations are offering virtual tours, livestreaming, and integrating audience participation in their performances.
  • Nonprofit staff serving low-income clients are using cell phones to serve those with little access to technology. For example, staff at one local health clinic phoned thousands of clients. Speaking in five languages, these clinic workers explained why people were stockpiling toilet paper and outlined basic COVID-19 safety practices, such as washing hands and wearing a mask.
  • To help students conduct online learning in homes lacking internet access or enough devices for each child, nonprofits sought funds to purchase tablets and hotspot access. They shifted staff time to help qualifying families access internet assistance and provided tutors to help students bridge learning gaps.

As 2021 begins, we are grateful that many philanthropic funders and individuals gave generously in 2020 to help meet these unprecedented needs. We are grateful that our local nonprofits stepped up to serve the needs of our community in innovative ways. However, while some nonprofits have seen an increase in donations during the pandemic, others are experiencing deficits from the loss of earned revenue and donors’ unemployment. Some are projecting a 10-to-40-percent decrease in contributions in 2021. As the need is growing, the financial ability to help those in need shrinks. Clearly, more help is needed.

When that typhoon in Taiwan hurled debris through our windows, it was all hands on deck, sweeping glass, nailing panels, bailing water. Afterwards, neighbors helped one another sweep away mud and debris. More than ever, nonprofits need our partnership in clean-up and restoration work—and to continue building windmills. Perhaps consider volunteering your time or contributing resources of finances and expertise. Looking ahead to the challenges—and opportunities—of 2021, what nonprofit can you partner with to build some windmills?