By Joanne Gouaux

Young girl sitting, smiling at the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto

Student photo with permission from the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, California

If fortune is an island, inequality is the ocean.

The rising tide of inequality affects all regions — including Silicon Valley. Schools in East Palo Alto estimate nearly ninety percent of students live in poverty. Financial insecurity significantly impacts students’ school attendance, educational attainment, and ability to graduate from high school, ultimately limiting their lifelong social and economic mobility. It does not have to be this way.

Community leaders across the country have been calling for the regular delivery of direct cash payments to families to help weather the economic effects of a trio of simultaneous crises: financial insecurity, civil unrest, and inadequate healthcare. Nonprofits focused on children and families can help buoy struggling households by championing and providing direct cash transfers.

Sarah Gonzalez is an expert in cash transfers. She serves as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of My New Red Shoes (MNRS), a small charity based in Redwood City, California that is delivering cash grants to help parents manage the demands of the current circumstances and meet their families’ needs.

Sarah explains cash transfers:

Unconditional direct cash transfers are regular cash payments (such as monthly) or a single lump sum of cash (as opposed to vouchers or gift cards) provided directly to individuals or families without requirements. Regularly disbursed direct unconditional cash transfers give families critical stability that they otherwise may not have. Evidence increasingly shows that when families know their monthly basic needs can be met and feel more economically secure, they are less stressed with improved well-being.
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Student photo with permission from the San Francisco 49ers Academy

Alleviating some financial stress

MNRS’ new cash grant pilot program was launched in Spring 2020 to respond to the urgent and growing needs in the community.

Minh Ngo, MNRS Executive Director, is intently focused on countering the economic fallout from the pandemic that continues to intensify hardships and stress. She aims to strengthen the organization’s internal capacities to quickly and flexibly deliver funds so that those who need it most are able to make the decisions they need to best support their children during these complex times.

Minh describes how MNRS delivers cash transfers:

To meet the needs of families impacted by the pandemic, MNRS leveraged partnerships with sister organizations that have deep ties in the community and implemented strong processes to quickly and nimbly deliver cash transfers. Our focus on expanding our operations beyond the delivery of shoes and clothing to include cash payments positioned us to advocate for additional funding and more than double our budget for cash grants to $100,000 in 2021.

The latest grant distribution is with the 49ers Academy, a nonprofit organization embedded in the public school system. The 49ers Academy empowers underserved youth in East Palo Alto schools to achieve academic success and reach their full potential. The group is a longtime partner to MNRS, creating a channel for cash grants to individual families to be delivered with case management and wrap-around support services. These types of partnerships ensure children’s fundamental needs and family needs are recognized.
The 49ers Academy Programs Director, Miriam Magana:

We can’t thank you [MNRS] enough for all of the warmth, safety and joy your cash grants brought to our families. We were able to serve 24 of our neediest families. After surveying our families, the highest needs were food, overdue electricity bills, rent, and basic household needs. We have families who are heavily relying on food banks and our weekly Monday food distributions. Although these grants do not undo all of the heartache and loss that COVID-19 has brought to our families and community, it is a great step in their progress towards stability again.

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Student photo with permission from the San Francisco 49ers Academy

Community relationships built on trust inspire people to give and come together for successful collaborations. Nonprofit groups like MNRS nurture public trust in the community and can channel public and private resources to people who have fallen on hard times. Through a diverse network, small nonprofits can give people peace of mind, and keep their cash flow positive allowing children to have a healthy start in life. These programs create the necessary constituent insights to generate evidence-based policy decisions.

Is this enough to resolve inequality? No, but cash transfers can provide stability while a touch of kindness can alleviate suffering and offer hope.
Experts say philanthropy alone will not solve inequality, but it can play a supporting role. Research shows that people in less equal societies are less likely to trust each other — and trust is something local communities need right now. Solving today’s triple crisis will not be easy. If history is any indication, only public policy — not philanthropy — can address the root causes of inequality. In the meantime, charitable initiatives at the local level can help to alleviate some of the human suffering.

Follow your heart, find a cause you care about and donate to a nonprofit that is actively engaged in your community.



Joanne Gouaux is a board member of My New Red Shoes, a nonprofit that works to improve the well-being of children and youth, and cultivate a sense of belonging.


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