NOTE: This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.
East San Jose businesses and nonprofits struggling to survive may have gained a new lease on life through a new community COVID-19 relief fund.
San Jose Planning Commissioner Rolando Bonilla said the East San Jose business community, which has experienced difficulty accessing government aid, was left out of conversations about solutions to help them weather the pandemic.
"In East San Jose in particular, it's been really difficult for a lot of our businesses to access federal, state and local support," he said. "Nonprofits are getting killed out here."
Extending a lifeline, Bonilla created the East San Jose COVID Relief Fund, kicking it off with a personal donation of $5,000 through his company, Voler Strategic Advisors. He seeks to raise more than $300,000.
Bonilla hopes his contribution will motivate others to invest in East San Jose businesses and nonprofits. He is calling on business leaders throughout Silicon Valley to match his contribution.
"This fund is a challenge to the business community and East San Jose," Bonilla said. "The cavalry's not coming. We're it. We're going to have to step up and put our resources together … to save the heart and soul of East San Jose."
Bonilla said businesses that rely on foot traffic are hurting, especially after the latest shelter in place orders, and East San Jose has been hit disproportionately by COVID-19 infections and deaths. Business owners have difficult choices to make, he said.
"We have to do everything we can to keep our doors open," he said, "but it also exposes them to a virus that has ruthlessly worked through East San Jose."
Mimi Hernandez, executive director of Prosperity Lab, which manages financial assistance programs for microbusinesses in East San Jose, said the fund gives the community hope.
"There are a lot of businesses that didn't qualify for most grant programs," Hernandez said. "It has been heart-wrenching for us to try to find them assistance time and time again, only to be denied."
Hernandez said the East Side community has been hardest hit, yet was left out of most government aid programs, adding to the inequity it already faces. She said the funding will help them catch up on utility bills and rent. Without it, she said the pandemic could be the nail in the coffin for them.
"It's very important they receive the financial assistance," she said. "It will allow us to keep the cultural identity of our neighborhood intact and allow families to deliver the American dream for their kids."
Bonilla said he hopes East Side residents have businesses to come back to after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
"If we do not step up and support our businesses and nonprofits during this moment of crisis, we risk losing the economic engine of our community," Bonilla said. "Those resources are going to keep nonprofits open and give East San Jose something to come back to when this crisis is finally behind us."
Bonilla has partnered with Latinas Contra Cancer, a San Jose nonprofit, as the fund's fiscal sponsor. To receive financial assistance, businesses and nonprofits should send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donation checks can be sent to Latinas Contra Cancer, 255 N. Market St., Suite 175, San Jose, CA 95110. Memo Line: The East San Jose COVID Relief Fund.