New America Weekly

Groundswell: Bridging the Gaps

Weekly Article
Dorti /
April 9, 2020

Last week’s federal mandate to extend social distancing guidelines spelled unwelcome, but not unexpected, news: COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon. Amidst all this uncertainty, people around the country are stepping up to support one another—and in this week’s Groundswell, we’re spotlighting non-profits, grassroots efforts, and local governments that are helping those who have been hit hardest.

First, in California, nonprofit Empower Work is reaching out to workers impacted by the pandemic. The organization runs a national text line that provides guidance for thorny workplace issues, and it recently launched a COVID-specific page in response to what founder and executive director Jaime-Alexis Fowler calls “a huge surge in need” since the start of the COVID crisis.

“We've seen a 197% increase in message volume the last two weeks of March,” said Fowler. “There's been so much focus (and rightly) on the economic variables and not enough on the mental health of workers right now. And they're hurting.”

According to Fowler, Empower Work has received an influx of questions about hours cut, ethics (e.g., companies asking employees to come in despite shelter-in-place orders), financial concerns, and worker mistreatment. The text line is a crucial resource amidst this confusion, she said—having a space to talk through difficult situations and receive support from trained peer counselors can bolster both mental health and economic security.

“This [crisis] is going to have a ripple effect for people's careers and work for years to come,” said Fowler. “Providing the right support right now can make that less of a tidal wave.”

Elsewhere, the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) has established the Arizona COVID-19 Community Response Fund to support nonprofit organizations’ efforts. ACF has raised close to $7 million so far, and it’s committed to moving resources and adapting quickly to evolving community needs. For example, to help expedite the application process, the foundation is requiring only a simple one-page online form from nonprofits; applications are approved on a weekly basis, with a 5-7 day turnaround. One of the first funding recipients was the Tempe Community Action Agency, which aids vulnerable populations with everything from food access to utility bills. The emergency funds will help the organization create a drive-through service for senior center meals to help limit the exposure of senior citizens.

Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, grassroots efforts rule: at a senior living community, residents with excess food or supplies are leaving surplus in the common area for residents who are struggling. This spirit of solidarity can be seen across the city: Residents are sharing their struggles via neighborhood associations and social media platforms (including the NextDoor app), and their needs are being met by mutual aid groups and individuals alike, according to neighborhood activists and church volunteers. On Facebook, people are offering grocery runs and yard work to any vulnerable folks who might need help.

And in Chicago, some unexpected institutions are contributing to the response. With citywide hospitalizations expected to peak in April, state and local officials are working with the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to convert McCormick Place—Chicago’s massive lakefront convention center—into an emergency coronavirus hospital. Five hundred beds and 14 nurses’ stations were completed between March 27 and April 3; altogether, the completed facility will serve up to 3,000 patients.

These are just a few examples of community resilience and mutual aid in this time of crisis. If you have similar stories from your community, please reach out at—we’d love to feature them in future installments of Groundswell.