Cancellation of major fundraising events and staff and volunteer limitations made it challenging for nonprofits to meet increased demand for services during the pandemic. Additionally, many local nonprofits deliver services to communities made vulnerable because of systemic racism and social inequities. The pandemic’s impact was amplified for these groups.

Emergency grants could not solve every challenge, but the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Community Urgent Relief Fund (CURF) made it possible for nonprofits to sustain and even ramp up operations. Helping Other People Exceed (H.O.P.E.) thru Navigation, a CURF grant recipient, helps those with criminal backgrounds and/or substance abuse disorders navigate services that promote stable lives.

According to Gwendolyn Hooker, executive director of H.O.P.E., structurally racist and inequitable systems create barriers for newly released individuals to transition back into society. Obtaining housing is difficult, especially when affordability is added to the equation. A criminal background that bars you from employment means you can’t earn the resources to pay rent. The pandemic made these existing circumstances worse.

"The CURF funding was so helpful because newly released people didn’t have phones for us to communicate with them or get them connected with support," Hooker said. "People couldn’t afford sanitizer and masks. The grants helped people stay in their homes while laid off, furloughed or waiting for unemployment. We were able to place people who had recently been released from prison or treatment facilities into temporary housing when they had nowhere to go."

Hooker believes the CURF grant protected more of our community from exposure to COVID-19 by providing PPE and stable housing so physical distancing was possible during the pandemic.

This article was featured in the latest issue of our UPDATE newsletter.
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