New Jersey’s ‘Black Fairy Godmother’ Distributes Covid Relief One DM at a Time
Simone Gordon doesn’t have to worry about a Byzantine legislative process to get Covid-19 relief to families she sees in trouble. She has Facebook and Instagram.
Since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country, the New Jersey single mother has turned the social media groups she once relied on to help herself into a multi-state operation that targets small and large needs. She has amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and dozens of volunteers to fill gaps in government aid for Covid-19 while granting “wish lists” for the holidays and paying for school fees.
And for that, she earned the nickname she used for her new non-profit organization: “the Black Fairy Godmother”.
“From that point on, my life was different,” she said of her work during the pandemic. “It means a lot because a lot of families, especially in the southern states, have a much harder time getting help.”
She added: “I teach people how to survive.”
Pay in advance
After losing his job at a bank in 2017, Gordon recalls moving to deal with bills and find food, clothing and other resources for his then newborn son, who was later diagnosed with autism. non-verbal.
Gordon tried to apply for government benefits, such as food stamps and housing assistance, but said she felt like she was standing on a precipice that was already cracking beneath her.
“I went to different nonprofits and social service agencies to get him the help he needed, and I kept getting stuck in a traffic jam,” she says. “People said, ‘Well, go to this website. It’s right there, you can just apply.’ It’s not that easy. It takes days, it takes a week, and at that point a person wants to give up. “
So she did what millions of others have done over the years to seek kinship ties and emergency help – turn to social media.
She found a private Facebook group established for low-income mothers, which helped her stock up on supplies for her son. She realized that there were more women like her who sometimes needed a helping hand to make ends meet. She began creating Facebook groups aimed at creating a network made up largely of women of color, including those who are the primary caregivers of loved ones with disabilities like her.
In 2018, the Facebook groups she set up raised thousands of dollars and she relied on 12 volunteers to help distribute money and supplies. In 2019, she was on Instagram.
Then the pandemic created an explosion of needs.
Gordon said that for many families, uncertainty – and bills – have increased while waiting for government help.
“I had to go on social media and ask subscribers to send formula, collect toilet paper, send masks and help with groceries for the elderly … and also the people with disabilities, ”she said.
Her Instagram grew from 500 followers to 13,000 in just a few months, and she now has 43,000 as of May. Its following expanded even further with the help of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love,” who promoted Gordon’s work.
Stories from across the country poured in, mostly from black and Latin American single mothers asking her for help. Gordon said she raised $ 150,000 in the first week of March, as lockdowns began. Overall, she said, her Instagram efforts have raised more than $ 250,000, help house 121 families at risk of eviction in temporary housing, fill Christmas wish lists from 324 families, 120 Mother’s Day wish lists and 11 single women of color awarded scholarships to help them. pursue their educational goals.
Gordon said she shared receipts with donors to show where exactly the money went and that she required hardship documents like an eviction notice or invoice. She says she pays the owners or does the grocery shopping directly through an online service.
Congress has passed several Covid-19 relief bills, imposed moratoriums on evictions and states that have adopted their own relief measures, such as housing assistance – but experts noted that there are a still that pass through the cracks.
A recent study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, suggests millions of Americans still struggle to pay rent, buy food, and get basic necessities.
The study also found that 11 percent of adults in households with children were likely to say they did not have enough to eat in May, compared with 7 percent for households without children. According to the study, around 10.9 million adults living in rental accommodation – 15% of all adult renters – were also not caught up with their payments.
Waving his wand across America
Gordon has since turned his Instagram into a registered nonprofit – The Black Fairy Godmother Foundation – with paid staff and two volunteers in each state. People can request help through a form on the website, which requires applicants to submit various forms of documentation.
“We help you with emergency food, we help you in an emergency [electricity bills]. But the next step is employment or education, because you can’t go back to bankruptcy after we help you, ”she said.
She added, “The reason I do the work I do for the marginalized community is because I have been through it.
Shirnique Murray, a 30-year-old single mom from Florida, said she stumbled upon Gordon’s Instagram in May 2020 at a time of immediate need.
She had to quit her job at a merchandising company due to the lack of child care facilities due to school closures. The casual job she found was not enough to pay the bills and feed her family. She said within 48 hours of contacting Gordon on Instagram, there were groceries at her house. But that was not the end of the help. Murray said she always wanted to be a nurse. Gordon helped pay for his certified practical nurse exam course, which Murray completed this month, and the certification exam.
“When she did, she did it on the spot,” Murray said. “I was grateful, grateful and excited.”
Gordon said doing the job had been fulfilling but exhausting, contributing to a “blackout” at some point in the past year. Requests for help poured in and she struggled to manage a larger network of volunteers. She was also caring for her autistic son, now 11, and taking classes to become a nurse – all from home when the country was largely on lockdown.
“I had a breakdown because everything hit me, my son didn’t understand why he couldn’t go out. I was confined to a house and people were just sending emails and emails. And my team members have real jobs and they were always volunteers. And some of the followers who were volunteers just didn’t get it and they were overwhelmed. And I felt like I was letting people down, ”she said.