Paying it Forward to our city during COVID crisis

We (Jordan and Olivia) recently started a non-profit in New York City to help local small businesses affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We’ve known each other since freshman year of college in 2013, at CUNY Brooklyn College where we became roommates, and have remained friends throughout the years.

Olivia & Jordan

What is your Project/organization you are working on/with?

Brooklyn Donates is a charitable non-profit organization in Brooklyn, New York, that prioritizes the socio-economic well being of New York City neighbourhoods and small businesses.

What was your inspiration?

The pandemic hit New York City hard. We were consistently checking in on each other and talking about what was happening. This was recurring for us, “Oh man this has closed down, that has closed down, that makes me really sad.” There was about a one week span when we saw many of the small businesses we know and love either having to pivot and completely change their business model, or close their doors entirely.

We were really struck by this, many long-term friends and businesses that were important to us were unsure if they could remain open or if they could pay their employees. They were overwhelmed with the lack of security and support — applying for small business loans, spending hours on the phone with the bank, all while trying to still run a business, manage employees, and set up new delivery platforms. We realized quickly they must not have time to post on Instagram — to get their voice out there. So we decided to start building a social media platform and website to gather all of this information and put it in a central location to spread the word about businesses that need help, their GoFundMe pages and inform people about other ways they could help the community. Shortly after, people began contacting us who wanted to donate but did not have one specific place they wanted to donate to, some of these people weren’t even from New York City, but wanted to help in some capacity. Eventually, we decided that we needed to start a central fund and become a non-profit organization so that we were able to accept donations directly and distribute grants to businesses in need.

While we are still promoting the GoFundMe pages and Venmo accounts of businesses and artists, people will soon be able to also apply for funding directly through Brooklyn Donates.

What have been some of your highlights of the project so far… why?

The community was so responsive to the platform! They were excited and willing to get involved.

For business owners, it brought them some amount of relief. We mainly just asked them to provide us with some information and let us use some of their pictures from their social media accounts, not fill out lengthy applications or forms.

For us, a huge highlight has been learning new things and gaining confidence in ourselves that we are capable of doing this complicated work. A few months ago, neither of us would have pictured that we would be able to tackle something of this magnitude, but we rose to the challenge.

What challenges have you faced?

Time! Working full time, going to school, all of life’s elements being an ongoing balancing act. However, we just took everything as it came. “Okay we need to do this, great let’s do this. Okay, today’s goal is this, tomorrow’s goal is this, by the end of the week let’s have this done.”

It has also been scary to think, if we don’t make it work we would be letting a lot of people down. This is a big responsibility that we’ve taken on. Gaining the communities’ trust is so important to us and we owe it to them to do our absolute best to make sure they get help.

What you have found to be your best resources?

The community!! We put up signs around a few different neighbourhoods so far and people have reached out to us recommending businesses that might need help. Business owners have also given us a lot of insight and contacts that have helped us.

Each other, teamwork! We pull the weight for each other — when one of us gets busy with work, school or other things, the other one pulls a majority of the load.

Google, if you don’t know, somebody else does, sometimes you just have to read into it and try to figure it out. Looking out for what others have done and self-teaching.

One wonderful thing about non-profits is that everything is public information, you can look up really successful non-profits and you can see the information and use it to gain insight into a jumping-off point.

What advice do you have for your peers?

JUST DO IT, you’re going to do things wrong and you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to not know how to do things, but you’ll learn.

Don’t be afraid of just starting and learning as you go. Take it bite by bite, you will learn in each step of the way.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others who have done something similar just like, if you want to do something similar to what we’ve done, email us! Reach out to us and we will tell you everything we know and have learnt. It is better if you have the support, and not many people are very withholding of their knowledge.

Don’t be afraid of the old forms of media: flyers for us have been one of the biggest forms of traffic for us. They have really helped us get the website out there. Make a sign! Utilise your resources and people.

Being able to admit you won’t, and don’t, know everything.

Take it day by day and celebrate the small successes.

Do you have any future projects or ideas?

We would love to keep taking in donations, and we think all of New York City is struggling. There are so many places in New York that have socially important businesses, whether it be a gym, a laundry mat, or a restaurant. There are many places that add value to the community across the city. We would love to help as many people as we can throughout the whole city. The economic effects of this will probably last a really long time.

Also looking in the future, there are people who don’t have the means to start a business, but may want to — and if they did, it would help preserve their neighbourhood culture, so we’d love to help them do it. After the effects of the pandemic, we see Brooklyn Donates as being a valuable platform for helping those people out and preserving the community in that way. We feel strongly about protecting those communities that may be at a disadvantage.

Connect back to Brooklyn Donates!

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