NOTE: This story was originally published by San Jose Spotlight.
East San Jose businesses and nonprofits struggling to survive may have been given a new lease of life through a new community COVID-19 relief fund.
Rolando Bonilla, San Jose planning commissioner, said the East San Jose business community, which was struggling to access government aid, had been excluded from talks on solutions to deal with the pandemic.
“In East San Jose in particular, many of our companies have found it very difficult to access federal, state and local government support,” he said. “Nonprofits are getting killed out here.”
Bonilla extended a lifeline and created the East San Jose COVID Relief Fund, which began with a personal donation of $ 5,000 through his company Voler Strategic Advisors. He wants to raise more than $ 300,000.
Bonilla hopes his contribution will motivate others to invest in companies and nonprofits in East San Jose. He calls on business leaders across Silicon Valley to do their part.
“This fund is challenging for the business community and East San Jose,” said Bonilla. “The cavalry is not coming. We are. We need to reinforce and gather our resources … to save the heart and soul of East San Jose.”
Bonilla said businesses that rely on pedestrian traffic are injured, particularly after recent housing orders, and East San Jose is disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections and deaths. Entrepreneurs have tough decisions 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 worked ruthlessly in East San Jose.”
Mimi Hernandez, executive director of Prosperity Lab, which manages financial aid programs for micro-business in East San Jose, said the fund gives hope to the community.
“There are a lot of companies that didn’t qualify for most of the funding programs,” said Hernandez. “It was heartbreaking for us to keep trying to find help only to be rejected.”
Hernandez said the East Side community has been hit hardest, but has been banned from most government aid programs, adding to the inequality that already exists. She said the funding will help them catch up on utility bills and rent. Without them, she said, the pandemic could be the nail in the coffin for them.
“It is very important that they get the financial support,” she said. “This will allow us to preserve the cultural identity of our neighborhood and help families realize the American dream for their children.”
Bonilla hopes that after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, East Side residents will have businesses to return to.
“If we don’t strengthen and support our businesses and nonprofits in this moment of crisis, we risk losing the economic engine of our community,” said Bonilla. “These resources will 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, to sponsor the fund financially. For financial assistance, businesses and nonprofits should send inquiries to [email protected]
Donation checks can be sent to Latinas Contra Cancer, 255 N. Market Street, Suite 175, San Jose, CA 95110. Note line: The East San Jose COVID Relief Fund.