When Covid-19 hit New York City in Spring 2020, public offices were not prepared. Overwhelming needs encountered limited resources, and many communities responded to the aftermath of Covid-19 with a spirit of DIY, taking matters into their own hands. The Chinese-American Planning Council, Inc. (CPC), the nation’s largest Asian American social service organization serving 60,000 individuals and families in New York City annually, wanted to help their community maintain their economic stability during the challenging times. They needed to do so quickly: when public aid programs proved too slow or unsuitable, families relied on community-based organizations like CPC for support.
Great partners under pressure
Fortunately, CPC partnered with the Robin Hood Foundation (RHF), New York City’s “largest poverty-fighting organization,” to help. RHF entrusted CPC with a $200K grant for Covid-19 relief, and Edgar Pereira, Chief Program Officer, with the support of CPC’s Community Center Directors, decided to distribute $1000 to 200 families who had been severely impacted by Covid-19. $1000 seemed like the right amount to make an impact for families -- comparable to the higher-end of other public aid stipends, while enabling CPC to reach hundreds of families with the aid.
CPC would have to provide assistance remotely and quickly -- and Edgar and his team knew they’d need to rely on technology. RHF recommended a partnership with Tremendous, and CPC was drawn to Tremendous’s flexible options to deliver payments efficiently. To their delight, the Tremendous platform allowed families to select the most convenient options for them: between direct deposit, virtual Visa, or physical Visa cards. And uniquely, Tremendous offered traditional and simplified Chinese as a translation option, which is understood by the majority of CPC’s community. CPC appreciated Tremendous’s vision of accessibility, and by simplifying the payments process, Tremendous enabled CPC to focus on getting aid to those in need.
Lessons from a swift program deployment
Within a rapid two weeks, CPC successfully began disbursing RHF’s grant to community members. They credit their team’s efficiency to a system of meticulous, tech-enabled internal processes. Given the volume of deserving families, CPC devised screening tools deeming members eligible if they (1) didn’t qualify for other public aid, and (2) experienced any of the following: job loss, loss of loved ones due to Covid-19, loss of health benefits, or vulnerable family members such as seniors and young children. An indefatigable team of staff ensured members were cared for.
CPC learned a number of critical lessons by developing a program of this scale under time constraints. Among them: ensure that every member of staff serves a singular function. "A division of labor," Edgar stresses, "makes for swifter collaboration." CPC’s processes enabled their staff to act quickly and launch their program within days.
Perhaps the most important lesson, however, is the deceptively simple realization: with the help of technology, organizations can support their communities efficiently and at scale, particularly when government intervention just isn’t enough. With sheer initiative and the right tools, even grassroots efforts can bear tremendous returns.