When the Mountain View Solidarity Fund received a directive to distribute $1 million from the city of Mountain View to those who needed it most last year, leaders of the grassroots group didn’t follow the typical protocol. There was no complicated application process, no proof of citizenship required and no mandates for how recipients could spend the money.
Instead, the Latina-led Solidarity Fund (Fondo de Solidaridad de MV) used the connections they’ve been fostering for years to find the people most in need, many of whom had never received aid before, and remove all the typical barriers.
“One of the biggest challenges we had in the past year, when we started working with the money that the city gave us, was to be able to find the families that hadn’t received any support from institutions,” said Olga Melo, one of the Fund’s leaders, in Spanish. That first round of Solidarity Fund money helped 400 Mountain View families, nearly half of whom had never received institutional aid before.
“I think that was the most important (thing) that we could have done,” Melo said.
Mountain View's 2022 mayor, Lucas Ramirez, told the Voice that the Solidarity Fund leaders used their unique roots and connections to help households that the city may not have been able to reach through conventional means.
Families received an average of about $2,500 in direct cash assistance to use for whatever they needed, including paying rent, utility and medical bills, buying food and paying off debt.
After the City Council deemed the Solidarity Fund’s approach successful, the nonprofit's leaders secured a second round of funding of $800,000 from the city in June. At an Oct. 25, 2022 meeting, the Mountain View City Council approved an agreement for the organization to start distributing the second round of money to extremely low-income residents.
The Solidarity Fund is currently accepting applications for the second round of funding. Those interested in applying can reach out to Solidarity Fund leaders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Many of the families who were hardest hit by the pandemic still remain in a difficult financial situation,” Ramirez said about why the council provided a second round of funding. “Many of them still haven’t completely recovered.”
Both rounds of funding for the Solidarity Fund come from the American Rescue Plan Act dollars, Ramirez said, a pot of federal money that cities must distribute toward pandemic relief causes.
“As a council, we wanted to focus on the communities that were hardest hit by the pandemic, which is consistent with the intent of the funding,” Ramirez said.
Melo said one the biggest barriers she witnessed during the last funding distribution is fear, particularly for the undocumented community in Mountain View.
“A lot of families don't apply to the social programs due to their legal status,” Melo said. “... The fear of being undocumented and telling yourself it’s going to affect you.”
But when it was clear the money was coming from Solidarity Fund leaders, people in their communities who they already knew and trusted, “they saw how we were the same, with the same problems and same needs,” Melo said. “... The city gave us the opportunity to distribute the money. It was something big.”
Undocumented residents are often ineligible for federal and state aid programs, Ramirez said, so empowering the Solidarity Fund to reach those people was particularly important to the city during the pandemic.
According to a UCLA study published in August 2020, “the exclusion of undocumented residents and their families from the $1,200 given to taxpayers a result of the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a loss of $10 billion in potential economic output,” the study said, putting those people behind on the path to economic recovery when compared to those who received aid.
The Solidarity Fund also distinguished itself from other aid programs by giving recipients full autonomy to spend the money in whatever way they need. Melo remembers one recipient asking if she was required to give her Solidarity Fund check directly to her rental manager.
“And I said, ‘No, not if you don’t want to,’” Melo said. “‘... If you don’t have food, go buy food. If you need to pay for your electricity or insurance, then pay it. If you have a loan – this money, you are going to decide where it needs to go. … This is your decision because you know where it is most important to pay.’”
Solidarity Fund leader Paula Perez added that because the first round of money was going out during the height of the pandemic, it was critical that the organization not be burdened with red tape that would typically slow down the distribution of funds.
“We wanted the money to land exactly where the urgency was,” Perez said in Spanish. “It was a pandemic. … It’s not the time to wait, to put in a request and follow up one or two months later, like the programs there currently are. So this was the great difference between our Fondo (and other organizations): to bring at the right time for the immediate needs because the families are suffering in this moment.”
Perez remembers one family who was shocked at how quickly their check came. It arrived at a critical time when one of the uninsured family members was recently hospitalized with COVID-19 and hadn’t been able to pay for medication.
“It’s very moving to hear this,” Perez said. “We were able to be there for the people in the opportune moment and that has been the most important.”
For Perez, that’s what it means to have solidaridad with one's community: to take care of one another by taking action.
“We act to bring a positive change to these families in a lot of desperation,” she said. “And we want to be the ray of hope for them.”
For more information about the organization, head to the Los Altos Mountain View Community Foundation's website, the fiscal sponsor of the Solidarity Fund.