Within weeks of the pandemic erupting, Bread & Roses Community Fund launched the Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing, a rapid-response emergency fund for community organizing. Since April 8, 2020, the fund has distributed $743,000 to 76 grassroots community organizing groups in the Philadelphia region; over 20 were first-time Bread & Roses grantees.
“As soon as we saw the scale of the pandemic and how its economic fallout was landing hardest on communities already targeted by systems of oppression, we knew we were going to need community organizing more than ever,” says executive director Casey Cook. While local and regional foundations responded quickly to the pandemic, most restricted emergency funds to existing grantees or established social service organizations. This left out small grassroots groups that were struggling to survive due to loss of revenue and suddenly had to adapt to remote organizing during lockdown.
To respond to this critical need, Bread & Roses immediately began raising money. It also made an unprecedented decision: for the first time ever, grants were distributed to unincorporated non-profit associations. “New movements were emerging in response to the pandemic,” Cook says. “We wanted to support this urgent work and pivoted quickly to meet the moment.” Money for the Solidarity Fund came from hundreds of individuals and a half dozen foundations. The fund raised more money than any other Bread & Roses program. For One Fair Wage (OFW), the grant supports organizing restaurant workers during the pandemic. Tipped workers face particular hardships because unemployment is based on their $2.83/hour base pay. OFW is a national coalition campaigning for fair wages for tipped and subminimum wage workers. Their new Pennsylvania chapter is educating Philadelphia workers and training them as activists. “We are amplifying the voices of tipped workers,” says OFW’s Pennsylvania organizer Tsehaitu Abye. “We’re building their power to be leaders in the movement.”
For Asian Americans United (AAU), the grant helped combat anti-Asian violence, which rose sharply because of COVID-19’s origins in China. AAU hosted online community forums with Asian leaders to discuss the growing violence and share resources. It met with public school teachers to inform curricula addressing racism and violence. AAU also distributed thousands of masks and gloves with Chinatown Dragonboat and worked with Asian Mosaic Fund on a COVID-19 community relief fund drive. “The grant helped sustain us as an organization because we couldn’t earn money on programs that usually support our work,” says AAU executive director Alix Webb.
For Power Street Theatre, the grant supports its work connecting grassroots organizing and the arts. In June, the collective of multicultural, multidisciplinary artists organized a Digital Rally for Philly Arts in response to massive cuts in City arts funding in the wake of COVID-19. Livestreamed for 24 hours, the rally drew 11,000 views. Building on that success, it hosted a second digital rally in February, focused on the 2021 City budget process. “This grant affirms the work of artists,” says co-founder and co-artistic director Gabi Sanchez. “Bread & Roses trusts that the stories we share will have a big impact on the city.”