Nicole Taylor, fifth from the left, pictured in 2019 on a visit to Project WeHope in East Palo Alto.
We are four long weeks into shelter-in-place conditions here in Silicon Valley as I write this, and several weeks into raising money to help people and their families, nonprofits and small businesses survive the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news first:
Residents of Silicon Valley are stepping up to give. They are also volunteering their unique know-how to help solve problems like refurbishing ventilators needed by hospitals, tracking the spread of the virus, and collaborating like never before to find a possible cure. (Check out our recent webinar with the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF about its research into COVID-19.)
At SVCF, we have a goal of raising $75 million to help our communities through this initial phase of crisis response – and we are one third of the way there, having received donations and commitments of over $27 million by April 10. These donations have come in from those who have charitable and donor advised funds at SVCF, and from people all over the Bay Area motivated to support our three COVID-19 response funds. In addition, local companies and private foundations are contributing, including Apple, Cisco, eBay, Facebook, Gilead Sciences, Salesforce and many more. My special thanks to Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who has led the way in giving and in rallying his peers to give early on in this crisis.
We have also been reaching out to our donors to ask them to give above and beyond what they normally would this year – and to target that giving towards efforts to fight this pandemic, especially close to home. So far, our donors have donated an additional $17 million to COVID-related efforts.
On Saturday, April 4, in partnership with NBC Bay Area, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley, the City of San Jose, the County of Santa Clara, Destination: Home, SV@Home and SPUR, we participated in a telethon to raise money for the Silicon Valley Strong Fund. That fund, housed at SVCF, provides financial assistance for low-income residents affected by COVID-19. The telethon raised $277,200 primarily from online and text-to-give donations, and over a million dollars more was pledged by corporations that night. This means that Destination: Home, which is disbursing these funds, will be able to help many more families who need basics like diapers, groceries and rent assistance because they’ve lost their incomes.
I am inspired by the community spirit evidenced with the telethon results. More than 850 people gave during the telethon. I believe that this community cares about each other.
Now for the hard news:
We have only just begun to assist those who are suffering. We can still only estimate how much aid our community will need once the economic effects are tallied. With over 2 million Californians filing for unemployment insurance over the past three weeks, we do know that the scale of the need is such that we need to ensure that we are leveraging both public sector and philanthropic funds.
As the data and stories come in, we are seeing that the effects are falling disproportionately on our lower-income neighbors, people of color and undocumented residents (there are approximately 200,000 undocumented residents of Santa Clara County alone). These neighbors are disproportionately employed in industries undergoing mass layoffs (construction, restaurants, service sectors) and in high-risk, essential jobs such as agriculture and delivery services, in which workers are literally risking their own health to be able to keep the nation fed and cared for. Many will not be eligible for unemployment insurance or the federal stimulus aid that has been announced so far.
This pandemic has already shown us – as if there was a doubt – that as humans we are inextricably intertwined. Each and every one of us is dependent upon each other for our own well-being. What begins in one part of the world can affect us all. The health and well-being of grocery workers stocking shelves are integrally important to the health of everyone else in their communities. The same is true for people driving trucks and building out unconventional spaces for new hospital beds.
COVID-19 has also magnified and exacerbated the inequities that already existed in our communities and illuminated just how weak the safety net is in this country. In recent days, media stories are reporting that black Americans are dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than others. The reasons for that are likely multi-factor – including poverty and the other social determinants that create inequity and influence health outcomes. This needs to change, so that government, science and philanthropy alike can address what’s happening and provide essential safety net services including housing and food to those most in need to improve these outcomes.
This is an unprecedented crisis with unknown long-term effects. What we do know is that the populations that need help have always needed help. Even before this crisis, nearly 300,000 Bay Area families lived one paycheck away from homelessness, according to experts. In the long-term, we as a society will need to invest in the systems that allow those most vulnerable among us to withstand both health and economic shocks. All people deserve access to the basic means of survival, and the means to move beyond survival to a state in which we all can thrive.
We must do all we can now to lift them out of this crisis – and in so doing, lift up our whole, intertwined world. Please join me in giving generously to your neighbors, whether through donations to SVCF’s response funds, other relief efforts, or by volunteering to help those around you. And, please be prepared to give again as we move into the recovery phase of this crisis, and collectively work to get our communities running again.
We need all our energies, ideas and resources to ensure our extraordinary region and its people will not just recover – but, in my vision, will fundamentally re-create itself into a region where systemic disparities have been erased and all of us can live healthy, abundant lives.