Testing and vaccination are crucial to getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. But many of the hardest-hit communities face obstacles in getting access to both. Community groups have stepped in to provide these populations with information and practical help — and Silicon Valley Community Foundation has backed them up with funding.
In 2020, SVCF launched seven COVID-19 funds. The COVID-19 Nonprofit Emergency Fund, which worked with other Bay Area community foundations to serve the 10-county Bay Area region, provides funding to nonprofits. The Regional Response Fund helps provide essential goods and services to individuals and families. Working with donors, corporations, other philanthropic partners and local governments, SVCF raised $64 million across all of its COVID-19 response funds last year.
One of the many outcomes: grants of $15,000 to $20,000 to each of about half a dozen pop-up COVID-19 testing sites in San Mateo County.
“These pop-up testing sites became one-stop shops for support,” said Manuel J. Santamaria, SVCF vice president for community action. Some sites provided food and other resources in addition to testing — and, now, vaccine information.
One recipient of the funding, Faith In Action Bay Area, focused on economic and eviction moratorium assistance for undocumented residents at the beginning of the pandemic. But infections rose in low-income communities, where many residents had no choice but to leave home for work.
Faith In Action started supporting community-based testing sites. They drew on their network of hundreds of community volunteers to help with testing sites at places like churches and schools, in the heart of the communities that most needed help. With funding from SVCF, Faith In Action supports the testing sites, providing volunteers, stipends and supplies including tables, chairs, tents, PPE (personal protective equipment) and lunch for volunteers.
“Before SVCF stepped in, community members running these sites were basically responsible for things like supplies, PPE and food for volunteers out of pocket,”said Lorena Melgarejo, executive director of Faith In Action Bay Area. “And that’s not sustainable. SVCF was able to provide a grant quickly, with less red tape than what government does.”
Faith In Action is also using SVCF’s funding to create a community response team in Daly City that will deliver food, PPE and cleaning supplies to people who test positive for COVID-19 so that they can safely isolate at home.
“For low-income people, it’s really hard,” Melgarejo said. “If you test positive, you cannot work, and you have to be at home to keep the community safe. But if nobody is bringing you food or PPE or helping you when you have questions, then you have to make those hard decisions: Should I go to work and not tell anybody because I have to feed my children? Should I go to the grocery store and buy food?”
Overcoming obstacles to vaccination
Now that vaccinations are available, those running the pop-up sites are using them to spread the word. In addition to the Spanish-speaking volunteers, the sites have videos on vaccination from trusted community leaders in Filipino, Chinese, Tongan and Samoan languages.
Several issues make it challenging to get information on both testing and vaccines to underserved communities: the language barrier, lack of access to medical providers, lack of access to technology, and concerns about immigration enforcement.
“If you don’t have a doctor that calls you and gives you an appointment, you have to proactively go online and register,” Melgarejo said. “That’s a huge barrier for a community that doesn’t have the language proficiency and doesn’t have access to the technology.”
The pop-up sites, run by trusted community members and offering services in community members’ native languages, help overcome these obstacles.
Faith In Action plans to continue supporting the community-based testing sites and hopes that they will also become vaccination sites.
“Unfortunately, because of barriers around technology and language, we have seen that the Latino community has not gotten vaccines at the same rate as other folks,” Melgarejo said. “We want to be very proactive in outreach, so that as vaccines become available, we’re going to be bringing people on to be vaccinated. If it’s necessary to knock on their doors to get them there, we will do that.”
As the phased vaccine rollout continues, hope is on the way for our communities. As part of SVCF’s commitment to reducing systemic disparities, the community foundation continues to focus on supporting our underserved neighbors, especially Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color, in hopes of creating a more equitable region.
Learn more about SVCF’s regional COVID-19 response here and about SVCF’s shift in grantmaking strategies here.