Another describes a 9-year-old girl who has seen both her parents lose their jobs and worry about how they’re going to pay May’s rent.
“I’m running out of money and i don’t know what can i do,” reads one of the emails.
People are suddenly turning to Wu, a 38-year-old D.C. resident, for help because his name appears on a GoFundMe campaign that aims to do for Washington-area immigrants and their families what the federal government is not: get economic stimulus money to them.
Click on any crowdfunding site right now and you will find a dizzying number of people in need — business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open, nonprofits that are trying to feed the hungry and people who are suddenly planning burials they didn’t expect.
But even in that crowded space, the page with Wu’s name stands out because of the amount of money it has raised, the unique way it has done that and the needs of the people it will benefit.
It is a Robin Hood effort of sorts — if Robin Hood had decided that instead of stealing, he would ask those with a comfortable amount of resources to give to their neighbors who have little to none.
“Immigrants and their families across the country are being left out of urgently needed covid-19 relief,” reads the GoFundMe page. “As part of the $2 trillion covid-19 relief package, many families will receive checks from the U.S. government. Cruelly, many of our neighbors will be left out of this critically important relief simply because of their immigration status.”
It describes the needs of the immigrant community as “massive and urgent.”
It then makes this request: “So we’re asking those who can to contribute their entire stimulus check to immigrants in the Washington, D.C. metro area who were purposefully left out of the government’s response to covid-19. We also encourage people who earned above the threshold for receiving stimulus checks to contribute in a similarly meaningful way (around $1,200).”
It would be a big ask during normal times. It’s an even bigger one at a time filled with so many economic uncertainties.
That’s also, of course, what makes the response to it so significant.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it had raised more than $337,000, with at least 80 people giving more than $1,000.
More than 1,400 people have donated to it, with some giving as little as $5 and, in one case, as much as $12,000.
“The stimulus should go to families who need it,” someone who gave $1,200 wrote on fund’s page.
“Immigrants are an essential part of OUR community and must be included in the recovery,” wrote someone who gave $250.
A person who gave $25 explained the donation with just two words: “I care.”
There is no question that the pandemic is proving particularly devastating for immigrants right now. My colleague Michael Miller recently wrote about families who live in Langley Park, a Maryland community where 70 percent of adults are not U.S. citizens. The article provides an intimate look at how out-of-work cooks, construction workers and cleaners are now struggling to keep their families healthy and housed.
Many of them won’t receive unemployment or stimulus checks. A requirement for receiving the checks is having a Social Security number.
Wu works for a nonprofit and is an organizer with Sanctuary DMV, an all-volunteer group that provides support to immigrants in the District, Maryland and Virginia. He says even before stimulus payments started popping up in bank accounts, he began thinking about how immigrants in the Washington region would be among those hardest hit by the pandemic.
He also considered that for some people in the region, those stimulus checks would be “a windfall” that they might be willing to share with those immigrants.
“These folks are quite literally our neighbors that we interact with every day, whether we know it or not,” Wu says. They clean office buildings, keep restaurants running and work as nannies and babysitters, taking care of other people’s children. “These are folks who are just part of daily life in D.C.”
Wu says the idea for redistributing some of the stimulus money occurred to him and another volunteer with Sanctuary DMV around the same time.
What followed were many conversations within the group to discuss logistics and the decision to partner with several organizations in the region that work directly with immigrants and have advocated for governmental policy changes. Those groups are Many Languages One Voice, LaColectiVa, Justice for Muslims Collective, Restaurant Opportunities Center DC, and UndocuBlack.
The groups initially set a fundraising goal of $120,000. They have since raised that to $360,000 and plan to keep upping it as long as people are giving.
“It’s successful beyond our expectations,” Wu says when I called him to discuss the effort. But he didn’t say that with a celebratory tone. He confessed instead that many people working behind the scenes have conflicting emotions.
“On the one hand, it has just been amazing to see the response,” he says. “It’s been really gratifying to see people give so generously.”
On the other hand, he says, the organizers have done the math. The money will be split between the groups to distribute, and some expect to give about $500 to each family, which won’t be enough to help them with rent or groceries for long.
“You realize this is just not a problem that is solvable through a GoFundMe or any volunteer or nonprofit effort,” Wu says. “For a lot of folks, I think they’ve gotten really sad thinking of the scope of the problem. It’s made me really angry, thinking about how our government is failing these people in this crisis.”
The organizers plan to start handing out the money soon, and they already are making difficult decisions, he says. One of those decisions for Sanctuary DMV is that the group will prioritize the families it knows and has worked with in the past.
That means they may not get to those emails that keep coming.
“I’m an immigrant and i saw people were donating and i was wondering if i could get some help,” reads one. “I am a college student and i work full time to help my family pay bills, sadly we dont have a lot of money and we are struggling really bad.”
“Anything would help,” reads another. “Please. We are not working because of the coronavirus. We still didnt pay april rent and may rent is coming. We also need to pay the electric and gas bill and buy diapers.”
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