As sweeping measures to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic were undertaken across the United States, schools were closed, activities and events were cancelled, and distance learning and virtual programming were presented as new alternatives. Challenges with these sudden new ways of life affected everyone, but especially the lives of working families and their children who were already facing economic hardship prior to the pandemic. Suddenly many non-profits found themselves with growing demands from the communities they serve while simultaneously needing to adapt to the new normal.
With the guidance from Shinnyo-en USA, Shinnyo-en Foundation (SEF) set out to identifying organizations who are on the frontlines supporting vulnerable children and families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We reached out to schools and school districts in each of the five temple areas (in mainland U.S.) to hear firsthand who the organizations were that they relied on the most. While there were many non-profits eagerly meeting the growing and evolving needs of their communities, there were five organizations that stood out.
District 59 Education Foundation (Elk Grove Village, IL)
The District 59 Education Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the quality of education and increase community involvement by fostering partnerships that support excellence and innovation in the Community Consolidated School District 59 (CCSD59) in Elk Grove Village, IL. The District 59 Education Foundation’s Board of Directors works with the CCSD59 Superintendent and other school staff to identify the unmet needs that are beyond the school district’s capacity and works to fill those gaps through fundraising efforts.
While the CCSD59 has been able to provide a coordinated effort to supply students and families with food while distance learning is in place, the District 59 Education Foundation’s Board of Directors has received a growing number of requests for emergency funding to meet basic needs such as rental assistance, vehicle repair, and the cost of eye glasses, etc. Such requests are being covered by the donations made to the Opportunity for Empowerment Fund.
El Centro Hispano, Inc. (White Plains, NY)
Since 1974, El Centro Hispano has provided a variety of programs and services including educational programs, counseling and advocacy, digital literacy, referrals to health, housing, and employment, etc.
According to the Center for Disease Control, hospitalization and death rates caused by the COVID-19 virus are higher for certain minority groups, including the Hispanic population which is at the top three groups. The disparity in living, working, health, and social conditions isolated many of the members of the Hispanic community from the resources they needed. Many in White Plains turned to El Centro Hispano as a long-standing and trusted organization.
Since the pandemic began, El Centro Hispano has distributed over 45,000 pounds of food to 2,000 participants; provided 1,600 referrals to housing, employment, and other services; provided financial assistance to 380 families; and fielded approximately 60 calls/day all while running virtual ESL, computer, and citizenship classes.
Friends of the Children – Seattle (Seattle, WA)
For 20 years, Friends of the Children – Seattle (Friends-Seattle) has worked to accelerate the generational change for youth facing the toughest challenges by connecting them with professional mentors who guide them to develop their greatest potential and achieve their goals.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Friends-Seattle has provided uninterrupted services to every enrolled youth while also addressing the holistic needs of the family unit. This includes: moving all services virtually, providing food bags, laptops, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, over 1,500 gift cards, and referrals to various social services. Additionally, Friends-Seattle established a Reserve Fund to meet emergency needs that cannot be addressed by the mentors or referrals to community services.
Redwood City Education Foundation (Redwood City, CA)
Redwood City Education Foundation (RCEF) is a community-based organization focused on providing financial support, targeted advocacy, and meaningful community and parent engagement to address systemic inequities. Redwood City School District serves a diverse student body of over 7,000 students with over 50 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
At the end of 2020, RCEF has shifted its focus from food and emergency support to mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing. RCEF’s Executive Director, Jason Galisatus, shared that while local community resources for food and emergency assistance are more readily available today, the need for social and emotional support is growing beyond the school district’s capacity. RCEF is currently focusing its efforts to expand the Counselor Program recently launched at Garfield Elementary School.
Volunteer Center South Bay-Harbor-Long Beach (Torrance, CA)
The Volunteer Center South Bay-Harbor-Long Beach’s (the Center) was founded as the “Volunteer Bureau” in 1963 by the Junior League of Long Beach with the purpose of connecting volunteers to service opportunities at local non-profits. As the landscape of service and volunteership changed, the Center has shifted its focus in 2018 to specifically assist in developing youth’s capacity to feel empathy through the service of others.
At the start of the pandemic, the Center amped up its food, clothing and toy distribution including its signature literacy program “Operation Teddy Bear” which distributed over 4,000 school bags filled with books, education, and wellness material. The Center has also been channeling its efforts to build empathy and resilience through its online teen program Connect.
Thanks to the generosity of the Shinnyo-en communities across the U.S., each organization received a donation of $40,000 to further support their work in helping children and families get through this difficult time.