By Sean Garrett, President & CEO of United Way of Metro Chicago, and Helene D. Gayle, President & CEO of The Chicago Community Trust
Two years ago, the world was facing an unprecedented unknown: a deadly global pandemic that was shutting down life as we knew it. But one thing was certain. People would need help to survive amid the uncertainty. Within just a few days, The Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago came together to establish the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund (CCRF), with support from the City of Chicago, foundations, businesses, and individuals. By the time the fund closed in early 2021, we had raised more than $35 million from 6,000 donors to support more than 400 nonprofit organizations providing emergency services to people most impacted by COVID-19.
Today, as our region turns its attention to recovering from the pandemic, the Trust and United Way remain aligned in our commitment to ensuring our communities can withstand and thrive in the face of future challenges and crises.
Throughout the pandemic, United Way’s Neighborhood Networks served as rapid response hubs, providing direct COVID-19 relief and aid through cash assistance, food distribution and pantries, and PPE supplies for residents in communities across the Chicago region. The Neighborhood Networks’ successful community response, coupled with a $25 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and support from other essential funders, led to the expansion of the Neighborhood Networks for the first time in six years. Building on what United Way learned from the CCRF experience, Englewood, Garfield Park, and the Far South are joining a collective that already included Auburn Gresham, Austin, Blue Island/Robbins, Brighton Park, Bronzeville, Cicero, Evanston, Little Village, South Chicago, and West Chicago.
The Trust also leaned on key learnings from CCRF—and the deepened economic divide between our region’s white communities and communities of color following the Great Recession—to shape the strategy for We Rise Together: For a Just and Equitable Recovery. We Rise Together is a trisector coalition of corporate, philanthropic, and community partners working to accelerate an equitable economic recovery in the Chicago region. Since it launched in October 2020, the five-year initiative has raised more than $46 million and distributed $18.6 million in grants to strengthen employment opportunities, support Black and Latinx businesses, and spark transformative development in disinvested neighborhoods. Through grantmaking, policy reform, and by changing business practices, We Rise Together believes in—and invests in—the aspirations of Black and Latinx workers, business owners, and neighborhoods.
As we work to bend the curve of recovery, the Trust, United Way, and We Rise Together will continue to align our efforts with community visions to achieve a stronger, more equitable region that benefits all of us.
The original article was published in The Chicago Community Trust’s Insights series.