Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Storytime . . .

Tonight I have to give a presentation on a fake fundraiser I'm putting on for an organization I don't really work for, the Emergency Fund here in Chicago. It's an group that provides funds and assistance to low-income folks who are faced with a crisis. They want to get around the red tape that so many other aid organizations deal with, because when you're in a crisis, you don't have time to fill out forms.

Last year at this time, my landlord, who was going into foreclosure, allowed our building's heat to be turned off. We noticed it was cold, but the heating was always iffy. We complained to him, turned on our space heaters, and daydreamed about moving when our lease was up.

A day later, frozen pipes burst in our bathroom while we were all away at work & school, and "flooded" our garden level apartment. There was only a couple inches of water in the place but it was continuously running the entire time and being soaked up into anything porous that touched the floor -- the walls, bedding, shoes, bookshelves, tables, cabinets. We came home to a place that wasn't livable, with many of our posessions destroyed.

We were lucky -- we had friends, family and co-workers who bailed us out with money, food, a place to stay, encouragement, prayers. People were extremely generous. Oh, our landlord? He'd just given us notice that the bank would be in possession of the building in a couple days. He refused to pay for any damages, and because the bank had not yet taken over the building, they also would not pay. We didn't have renter's insurance, but after investigating, found that insurance wouldn't have covered our situation anyway.

County inspectors came to our building and immediately condemned it because of the water and soon-to-be mold issue. The other 2 families in the building, whose apartments were simply cold, had to find new places to live, as did we. The state has filed a lawsuit against the landlord but I doubt anything will come of it and if so there will likely be no compensation to us as tenants.

We were so lucky to have a safety net to protect us when this crisis hit. We quickly found a new apartment, moved in, and within a couple weeks, life was back to normal. Before we got stable, though, I called around trying to find some sort of assistance - vouchers for a hotel stay, help with food, anything -- all our money and energy was going into shuttling around the large Chicagoland area (we were staying with family in the city but still working/schooling in the suburbs), trying to find a new place to live, and fixing our car which decided to get in on the fun and completely die.

Guess what - there were quite a few organizations out there to help people who were in situations like ours, but they were tapped out. No money for anyone or anything. They relied on state funding which was late, and they didn't have anything else to give out.

So - that was a long, long story to explain why my group in class chose the Emergency Fund. It was beyond stressful trying to call around to this organization and then that organization, being put on hold, telling our story OVER and OVER and OVER again - just to be told no, we can't help. Or the only person that knows how to help you is on vacation. Can you call back in 2 weeks? The Emergency Fund helps people in crisis navigate the system, helps get their immediate needs covered so they can focus on the long-term strategies to get back on their feet.

Our little group is supposed to be presenting to the EF board of directors, asking for permission to put on a BBQ fundraiser. We have the whole little fake thing figured out - corporate sponsors, in-kind gifts, advocacy to the neighborhood, etc. It should be fun.

Now - on a totally different note, I have some Valentine's Day cozies listed in my Etsy shop. I also have selected a new charity to donate 10% of all sales to: Streetwise, a publication here in Chicago that is written and sold by homeless and near homeless individuals. It's a really inspiring thing and it turns out that many major metro areas in the U.S. have something similar.

I think the next charity I'll be donating to is the Emergency Fund. :)

And, oh yeah - shipping is free for the V-day cozies, through V-day! HOORAY FOR FREE!

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