Here’s how an East St. Louis nonprofit plans to use a $1 million grant to help people

Christel Deskins

This story originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat. EAST ST. LOUIS — Shaunece Washington likes to keep a positive spirit. She’s a single parent of seven kids – five live at home with her- and she stepped away from her job at Little Caesars to be at home with her […]

This story originally appeared in the Belleville News-Democrat.

EAST ST. LOUIS — Shaunece Washington likes to keep a positive spirit.

She’s a single parent of seven kids – five live at home with her- and she stepped away from her job at Little Caesars to be at home with her children due to the pandemic.

“There’s no jobs really that are right around the corner from me,” Washington, an East St. Louis resident, said. “I have younger children and I stay in public housing with no transportation, so if something was to happen to them, and I’m on the bus, it would take me hours to get back here to see what’s going on in the house.

“I’d rather stay in the house with my children and make sure they’re safe than to go out and something happen to them while they’re here by themselves because there is a lot of shooting over here.”

In such hard times, Washington is grateful for Community Life Line, a nonprofit in East St. Louis that has been dedicated to meeting the needs of families in St. Clair and Madison counties since its inception in 2004. After moving to the area last year, Washington said the nonprofit helped her pay her bills.

Earlier this month, Community Life Line received a $1 million grant from the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund – the largest award given to a St. Clair County organization by the fund to date. Washington said she’s happy about Community Life Line getting more recognition, considering how greatly it has helped her family.

“If I think bad, then it’s going to be bad, so I try to stay positive about everything,” Washington, 39, said about her situation. “We’re not lacking in anything because I do reach out to help. [Community] Life Line did help with me paying utilities and it did help me with my rent because I didn’t have income.”

Community Life Line was one of seven organizations to be included in the Illinois COVID-19 Response Fund’s fifth and final round of funding. The fund, which is in partnership with the United Way of Illinois and the Alliance of Illinois Community Foundations in collaboration with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office, was established to help local foundations and nonprofits in areas hit the hardest by COVID-19. The final round of funding exclusively focused on organizations serving Black and Latinx communities or having a meaningful partnership with a Black or Latinx individual.

In the United States, Black and Latinx people are three times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white people, according to a New York Times report. In St. Clair County, Black-majority communities have twice as many cases per capita as mostly white communities.

Wyvetta Granger, the executive director of Community Life Line, said the grant offers a crucial opportunity for families during this time, considering new COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in the metro-east earlier this month. Granger said the nonprofit typically receives about $300,000 to $500,000 a year, so the $1 million grant is the biggest award it has received. Within the last two years, Community Life Line has served about 1,300 people at its facility. For outreach events, Granger said Community Life Line has served about 5,000 people.

“What makes me most proud is that I know, even in serving and administering funds, prior to us receiving this award, I knew that there was a great need out there, and one of the burdens that I was facing was just what do you say to people who are facing evictions and that was heavy for me,” said Granger, an East St. Louis native. “We already have a large homeless population that we deal with and we already have families struggling then to add that `I was evicted because I lost my job due to COVID and I just couldn’t keep up, ‘ was just so heavy for me.”

“So I’m just happy for the people. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to serve the people. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to serve the people and the hope is to get it done quickly so that this can be one of those weights that are lifted while people adjust to this new normal that we’re all facing.”

Granger said the nonprofit has already received half of the grant and expects to receive the other half in April. Funds throughout the organization will be disbursed in the following ways:

  • $610,000 for direct cash assistance to individuals
  • $100,000 for infant and toddler suppliesRead more here:
  • $100,000 for increasing Internet access in the community
  • $100,000 to hire two new staff members
  • $50,000 to support the and distribute 25,000 masks. The campaign is a communications and outreach plan designed to inform residents in East St. Louis on how to stop the spread of COVID-19
  • $40,000 to assist with administrative needs

“I definitely think direct cash assistance is going to be crucial,” Granger said about expanding its services. “We know for a fact that many people were not able to pay their utilities, their mortgages and rent payments so we know that evictions are going to be a huge issue whenever the moratorium on evictions are lifted.”

“What we’re going to do is budget now for where our residents are because chances are things might be this way for a while. So we’re trying to help people rewrite resumes, apply for different jobs. Just helping people navigate new opportunities and reinventing themselves because their job might not come back.”

Sharon Scoby, a Maryville resident, regularly receives laundry vouchers from Community Life Line because not having a washer and dryer in her home is a new normal for her.

“It really helps because I never have money left over for laundry,” said Scoby, who’s originally from East St. Louis. “I had lived in a house for so long and had my own washer and dryer, so I didn’t even know how to plan for going to a laundromat, so having the vouchers were really important to me.”

Scoby, 73, is retired and lives alone. She said the nonprofit has also helped her fill out applications for assistance.

“They also helped me apply for food stamps because I couldn’t see the application so well online,” Scoby said. “One of their counselors helped me over the phone to fill it out and I eventually got the assistance. A lot of times with the applications I lose my desire to apply because it’s so difficult, and the counselors there have really helped me.I don’t have a hesitation to check with them if I need something.”

“My goal is just to make it as dignifying as we can for families who are in need for funds,” Granger said. “This is not just about being poor. This is about if you have a need. If you’re a middle class family, you didn’t know where to get all the resources. We found out that a lot of people that usually don’t qualify for any assistance were greatly affected. Families like that need assistance too and they’ve used our services. We’re here and we’re trying to do as much as possible to alleviate the burdens that families might be facing.”

“I’m hoping that this will give people a little hope. I’m hoping that it’s enough relief for the average family that it provides them with hope to move forward. If we can pay 2-3 months’ utilities to get them back on track, then I hope that the assistance will give them hope.”

People in need of assistance can call 618-477-6900 or visit this link

DeAsia Paige is a community reporter covering East St. Louis, Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia for the Belleville News-Democrat, a reporting partner of St. Louis Public Radio. If you have a story to share, please email [email protected]

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