When the COVID pandemic hit Cleveland, we asked ourselves how FARE could be of most use and immediately began reaching out to our networks to learn about their needs. FARE is built to respond to immediate needs while thinking big picture. As a neutral party in the ecosystem, we have our ears to the ground and are connected and responsive enough to ask questions, connect dots, and make sure gaps are being filled. Seeing a gap in larger systems’ abilities to connect to grassroots networks, we are elevating community assets and needs and presenting them to key partners in order to drive funding and policy decisions.
We are sharing a state of what’s going on at the ground level with funders and city and county health departments and providing recommendations for how to best support efforts going forward. We recognize that crises often illuminate how things actually work and who steps up when things go down. FARE elevated the voices of residents and grassroots organizations to inform how resources were allocated and distributed in the community ensuring that those most affected by the pandemic were a primary focus and that community leaders and residents on the front lines had the support they needed to address critical community needs.
MEMO: The Impact of COVID-19 on Cleveland's Food System
First, FARE wanted to examine the current response to the pandemic through a health equity lens; to see how it’s functioning at the community level, who it’s serving, what the actual needs and assets are, and where resources would be most impactful. FARE also wanted to look beyond the big relief initiatives being proposed and funded, and identify opportunities for proactive, targeted investment and projects that would have a systems-level impact across a network or neighborhood.
In April 2020, FARE conducted 32 interviews with partners and advisors including corner store owners, community leaders, educators, small business owners, community gardeners, faith based organizations, and managers of food pantries, hot meal programs, homeless support services, workforce development programs, and farmers markets. They represent seven municipalities and 14 different Cleveland neighborhoods, east and west side, with a concentration of partners whose work focuses on Central-Kinsman and Clark-Fulton.
One of the key themes that emerged was that many neighborhood networks are fractured and organizations disconnected, preventing a comprehensive response that would distribute resources more equitably and effectively. Leaders also identified where resources would be most impactful in addressing critical and immediate needs and multiple determinants of health, including food security, as well as emerging issues that will impact their communities in the months ahead. A full summary of these interviews and the impact of COVID on Cleveland’s Food System is available here.
Rapid Response Grants & PPE
Rapid Response Grants
Because of our relationships with grassroots networks and local leaders and our ability to pivot quickly, foundations and city leaders have turned to FARE to help distribute resources. FARE has partnered with Neighborhood Connections to offer grants to support individuals and small groups working to meet basic needs in response to COVID-19 with a lens of community partnership, collaboration and coordination. Coming in with FARE’s values and equity checklist, we have advocated for the process to be as inclusive and accessible as possible in order to reach people who most need funds and who have not typically accessed this type of opportunity, while also thinking about improving systems in the long-term while addressing immediate needs. A FARE staff member and advisor are serving on the grantmaking committee to review applications, approve grants for projects that meet the criteria, and provide technical assistance to ensure that resources go as far as possible, expanding impact and creating more resilient community networks. FARE team members who are not on the review committee are providing support to applicants, many of whom are applying for grants for the first time. Over $300,000 in grants has been distributed to over 90 grassroots groups throughout Greater Cleveland.
Another key need identified in FARE’s COVID interviews was personal protective equipment (PPE) for community leaders and small organizations working on pandemic relief efforts and also for those most vulnerable to the virus, older residents and communities of color. FARE and Neighborhood Connections collaborated to distribute thousands of free masks, PPE, cleaning and hygiene products to small organizations and community projects across Cleveland. FARE has also partnered with Masks4Community, Cleveland Department of Public Health, Freedom BLOC, Cleveland VOTES, and Young Latino Network to distribute free masks and offer voter registration and census support at several corner stores in Cleveland and East Cleveland.