A partnership between a local nonprofit and the Berwyn running community has provided much-needed relief for some of the town’s most vulnerable families.
The Berwyn-based organization Awake and the Berwyn Running Club joined forces this month for the Berwyn Runs for Families 5K. The event, with 58 people running the week of May 9-16 and logging their time, took in 381 donations. It has helped Awake distribute 78 grants of $500 each for a total of $39,000. Awake specifically has targeted for relief families that do not qualify for government assistance because of their immigration status, including mixed-status families not receiving stimulus checks if one spouse doesn’t have a Social Security number.
“The Berwyn Running Club has been great. We set up the virtual 5K and really used our network to raise money,” said Lisa Polderman, Awake mission director and a member of the running club, who noted that $22,000 was raised from the 5K event alone. “We raised more than we anticipated, but we also have more need. The need has not gone away.”
Since 2015, Awake, a small volunteer-led organization, has provided educational programming, including a summer reading program, STEM to elementary-age schoolchildren and year-round field trips to cultural events. Awake also provides community organizing support.
Its most recent project, the Berwyn COVID-19 Relief Fund, was started in response to the coronavirus pandemic. When Illinois’ stay-at-home order began in March, Awake contacted families it supports, many of whom are low income or undocumented, to see how they were doing.
“Almost all of them were out of work, we found, [and] not expecting government assistance,” Polderman said. “It’s really heartbreaking. We talk to families that are picking up school lunches a couple times a week and using that to feed their entire families, families in desperate fear of being evicted. People are selling desserts from their front steps as a way to bring in money. It should not happen with vulnerable communities.”
About 130 people have applied for grants through the relief fund, with all but 10 of the grants given through individual donations from fellow community members. Runners signed up for the Berwyn 5K with donations of at least $25.
Emily Reyes, a social worker from Berwyn South School District 100, has been flooded with phone calls and messages of thanks from families that she referred to the program.
“When I received the call that I would be receiving help, I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Reyes relayed a message from Crystal from a family who received assistance. “Our family of five will be able to eat. This hit me very hard because I feel like ever since this pandemic I’ve not been able to catch my breath. Thank you for giving my family hope.”
Anna Marin from Awake cautioned that the need continues to grow for many families in Berwyn, a community she estimated is 27% immigrant and 15% undocumented.
Awake has 30 households waiting for a grant and will give a second grant to those who need it if additional money is brought in.
Awake also has partnered with Youth Crossroads and the Berwyn Development Corporation on a food drive to get more donations to local food pantries. The food pantry at Berwyn’s Ebenezer Church has gone from serving 50 to more than 200 families a week.
“We know that this is not meeting all the need. The list of people who have applied for aid goes up every day, and it’s devastating for Berwyn,” Marin said. “Bills are still due, income has dried up, people are not getting surgeries for life-threatening injuries. People are getting very scared. The majority of people are indicating they are using the funds for housing and bills.”