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Identity & Community

Local summit to recognize Pittsburgh nonprofits for their work during the pandemic

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Matt Rourke
/
AP

The need for financial assistance, accessible food, and personal protective equipment skyrocketed during the pandemic, and many Pittsburgh nonprofit organizations pivoted to meet new community needs. A mostly virtual summit from the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership starting this week will highlight some of the local groups working to address the effects of COVID-19 and racial disparities in the region.

“We went from COVID to the protests [against police brutality] to the election,” said Jasiri X, the co-founder and CEO of 1Hood Media. “It was almost like being on fire the whole year. It was pretty intense.”

He said the pandemic further exposed racial and economic disparities, but it also showed how nonprofits can help address these issues.

“We’re able to kind of fill in some of these blanks that maybe traditional institutions either weren’t able to fill or weren’t nimble enough to fill,” Jasiri X said.

Prior to the pandemic, 1Hood Media primarily held speaking engagements and other events in person. In March 2020, the organization moved to online events, discussing how the pandemic and other issues impact Black people and other people of color.

Many local nonprofits pivoted practically overnight to help their communities—despite reduced resources, said Colleen Young, the director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership.

“When the pandemic hit, it wasn’t a question of if nonprofits were gonna adjust to meet those new demands, but how and how quickly.”

The Allignment Chapter, a nonprofit that assists low-income single mothers, saw demand for necessities like diapers, new boots, and same-day financial assistance increase.

“Our requests went from 25 requests a day to over 150 requests a day,” said Ray Nell Jones, the group’s CEO and founder. She said the organization helped more than 7,300 mothers in the last 18 months.

Catapult Greater Pittsburgh, which offers tools to help Black families escape generational poverty, also had to expand their offerings. In addition to offering classes about entrepreneurship and first-time homebuying, Catapult also began giving out cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, and even computers to people in need.

“We realized right away that [COVID-19] was going to become a financial barrier for a lot of the families that we were working with, and a lot of other low-income families across the county,” said Catapult executive director Tammy Thompson.

According to Thompson, Catapult was serving between 60 and 70 families before the pandemic. In the last year, she estimates the organization has helped an additional 1,200 families.

But donations haven’t necessarily increased at the same rate. Some organizations received more donations during the pandemic, but Thompson and other nonprofit leaders said they need more community and financial support to do their jobs.

“A lot of us are doing a lot with a limited amount of staff, with limited dollars,” she said. “Challenges that we are facing are not getting smaller, they’re getting bigger. And, unfortunately, sometimes our capacity is diminishing instead of getting larger.”

Like many other nonprofits, Catapult, the Allignment Chapter, and 1Hood Media plan to continue offering expanded services after the pandemic ends.

“I think [the pandemic] opened a lot of eyes,” Thompson said. “These are challenges that a lot of our community are facing on a regular basis, and COVID just magnified it”

Young said the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership’s biennial summit will showcase some of the work done by nonprofits in the region to address the effects of COVID-19 and racial disparities.

“We’re really starting with the people who are the closest to the communities that they’re supporting and saying, ‘Because you have this deep connection, we want to make sure that your voices are heard very loudly in this process,’” she said.

This year, the virtual summit will start on Oct. 13 and run through Oct. 15. Additional details are available here.