In a groundbreaking partnership between the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) and Bread & Roses Community Fund, the Neighborhood Equitable Recovery Fund distributed $825,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to 55 grassroots groups serving communities of color and poor communities, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic. What makes this partnership so unique is that for the first time ever CEO distributed grants through a participatory grantmaking process in which residents from affected communities determined funding priorities, evaluated applications, and decided where grants would go in their neighborhoods.
“For CEO, the community grantmaking process was an intentional shift from our traditional approach to philanthropy to one that centers the lived experience of those most impacted,” says CEO executive director Mitchell Little. “We wanted to broaden the definition of ‘expertise’ and ensure that solutions come from the ground up.”
Over two rounds of grantmaking, 30 community members, who were trained and supported by Bread & Roses, worked together to determine the best approaches to equitable recovery in their neighborhoods. “We had to be disciplined about taking the time and trusting the process,” Little says. “Part of the process was letting go of power and allowing the voices in the room and the organic maturation of the work get to a decision point.”
LaTrista Webb, who served on the Community Grantmaking Committee, says: “It was an empowering process to come to a consensus with a group of people from totally different backgrounds about what equity looks like and what recovery looks like for your community. Usually, grants are read by people sitting behind desks who don’t actually do the work,” Webb says. “Many of us on the committee are community organizers so we can speak to the need in the community and the work that a particular organization is doing.”
Grantees included groups focused on health education, food distribution, family support, and community organizing to address barriers to support. The program was funded by a Community Service Block Grant through CEO.
Webb adds that training and guidance from Bread & Roses staff was key to the community-driven process: “Bread & Roses is very intentional in making sure that spaces are safe and that you can be honest about how you feel, and that there is a mix of races, social status, and power structure—a mix of people being intentional about the lives our decisions affect.”
Eva Gladstein, the City’s deputy managing director for health and human services, echoes this sentiment: “Bread & Roses understands the value of the process—making sure community members have the training they need and giving it the time needed to make sure everybody is participating to the best of their ability so that everybody is very comfortable with the decisions. Bread & Roses has a long history of doing this work that other philanthropies are in the learning stages around.” Gladstein says. “This is a very precious skill.”