Response in a Crisis
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our communities in early 2020, Neighborhood Allies, like many others, worked diligently to respond to its effects in a manner that was both strategic and effective. We aimed to connect organizations and residents to resources from across the region and create positive impact during a time of increased hardship. Below are the initiatives we launched within the first few months of the pandemic in an effort to support our partners and communities. Together, they made up our CARE (COVID Accelerated Relief Effort) Package.
Providing laptops, connectivity, and education to community members through Beyond the Laptops
When the Allegheny County COVID-19 lockdown began, community members called for help getting laptops to families who needed them for work and school. We responded by pivoting our newly launched Digital Inclusion program to address the lack of access. We worked with Computer Reach, the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Technology Council, and Pittsburgh Public Schools to refurbish and distribute 1,000 laptops to families impacted by the closure of public facilities and the ever-growing digital divide. From there, nearly 1200 computers were provided to families and students, $372,000 was raised for the cause, and 1000 households were provided with a year of free internet. Additionally, we partnered with CCAC, UPitt’s CEC in the Hill, Homewood Children’s Village, Womxn in Tech PGH, and Beta Builders to bring online courses to the community through a new program – LevelUp 412. See how the whole project unfolded at and learn more about our ongoing education and empowerment programming at levelup412.org.
Sharing financial guidance & access to benefits through our Economic Opportunity Rapid Response Team
Throughout the pandemic, our Economic Opportunity team worked closely with our partners to ensure that the Pittsburgh area had immediate access to relevant financial resources and information. Through phone and video sessions, our Financial Opportunity Centers and Financial Empowerment Centers were available to assist individuals and small businesses with immediate financial needs, longer term issues, and accessing public benefits. We also created an Allegheny County Financial Resources guide and continued promoting several safe, certified online bank accounts through our Bank On initiative.
Uplifting small businesses with free e-commerce & marketing assistance
As shutdown orders began, we quickly realized that the COVID-19 pandemic would deeply challenge the way many of our neighborhood small businesses operated. At first, we worked with neighborhood partners in Homewood to provide small businesses and organizations with assistance in developing an online presence in order to sell gift cards or other merchandise while physically closed. From there, we formed a partnership with the URA to expand our resources beyond Homewood, officially launching the ‘Get Online and Grow Online (GOGO)’ e-commerce and small business development program. Now a part of our permanent programming, GOGO has expanded to reach all of Western PA, and helps small businesses to adapt to an increasingly online world.
Providing emergency funds to organizations through our CARE Fund
We repurposed $125,000 of funds from our grant program in order to support our partners and allies working to get food, protective equipment, and other vital materials to residents in our neighborhoods. The fund helped nonprofits in our 6 priority neighborhoods address the greatest, most immediate food, health and safety needs of their communities. Altogether, our CARE Fund grantees served nearly 10,000 residents.
Helping businesses and organizations apply for the Paycheck Protection Program
We also created a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Assistance initiative through a unique partnership with First Commonwealth Bank, who agreed to process applications from our program participants in a timely manner. We targeted small businesses and nonprofits that would have otherwise had a hard time accessing capital without intensive technical assistance and a banking partnership. During the application period, we assisted 25 small businesses and nonprofits in accessing the Paycheck Protection Program, leveraging $1.5 million in forgivable loans and retaining over 120 employees. The majority of businesses assisted were minority or woman-led.
You can read more about our response to COVID-19 in our 2020 Impact Report.