“We’re all on this crazy world together, and people are falling off the cliff right in front of us,” Potts recalled telling her husband as they were separated by thousands of miles and watching the virus’s social and economic damage spread. “How can you not be moved to respond?”
It was a desperate yet daunting question. The virus has killed more than 160,000 Americans. More than 50 million jobless claims have been filed as a result of pandemic shutdowns, and local government assistance programs and charities have buckled under the demand.
Determined to help, Potts and Hayman worked with another Hollywood couple to create All Are One, an organization that raises money through events, then bundles the donations into $1,200 cash gifts to families in need. The idea is not new but is a still-unusual form of giving that soon will be coming to the District.
Charitable giving tends to stick to dedicated lanes — for example, rental assistance or hunger programs. But cash gifts like what All Are One are providing can be spent however the recipients want.
It is a reflection less of a new approach to giving than an acknowledgment that the economic hurt triggered by the coronavirus has been sweeping, touching all aspects of life.
“Cash in people’s hands is really different — it can make all the difference,” said Jay Steptoe, the East Coast director of Following Francis, the nonprofit organization teaming with All Are One in its D.C. initiative. “It’s kind of mold-breaking, I think. And that’s why we wanted to help.”
Potts’s group is not set up like a traditional charity. All Are One is not a 501 c(3) organization, which means the donations are not tax write-offs. The group said the structure allows it to partner with nonprofits directly so those groups can identify families who should receive the gifts.
“We don’t really run in circles where we could identify people who are really in need,” Potts said. “The groups, they know, and they know how to get to the most dire cases.”
All Are One has partnered with two charities with established footprints on both coasts, White Pony Express and Following Francis.
The group held it first event to raise donations on June 25 in the San Francisco Bay area, where White Pony is located. The proceeds amounted to enough $1,200 gifts for 25 families.
All Are One was drawn to the District because of Following Francis’s local presence, a situation that also reflects the way charities are changing to meet the new normal.
The organization’s Francis on the Hill program was initially aimed at picking up trash and planting flowers in Meridian Hill Park. But after the pandemic hit, Steptoe said, the group decided to jump-start a food distribution program.
It is now providing five tons of groceries each week to more than 300 families.
“There wasn’t a plan for this,” Steptoe said. “We were just trying to go where the need is.”
He is talking with high school principals and church leaders in the District to identify the possible recipients for All Are One’s gifts.
A fundraising event for All Are One’s Washington effort is currently being planned.
“I just hope that it inspires people to feel that everybody can do something now,” Potts said. “We didn’t know what we could do, so we just put ourselves out there.”