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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 for 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 large and small 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 godmother of the black fairy”.

“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 next

After losing his job at a bank in 2017, Gordon recalls struggling to meet her bills and find food, clothing and other resources for her then-newborn son, who subsequently been diagnosed with nonverbal autism.

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 creaking beneath her.

“I went to different nonprofits and social service organizations to give him the help he needed, and I kept getting carried away,” she said. “People said, ‘Well, go to this website. It’s right there, you can just apply. ” It is not so 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 research family 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 an extra 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 disabled loved ones like herself.

Simone Gordon, single mom and activist at Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ on May 28, 2021.Gabby Jones / for NBC News

In 2018, the Facebook groups she created raised thousands of dollars and she relied on 12 volunteers to help distribute cash and supplies. In 2019, she was on Instagram.

Then the pandemic created an explosion of needs.

Gordon said that for many families, the uncertainty – and the bills – grew while they waited for government help.

“I had to go on social media and ask my subscribers to send formula, collect toilet paper, send masks and help with shopping for the elderly … and also the people with disabilities, ”she said.

Her Instagram account grew from 500 followers to 13,000 in just a few months, and she now has 43,000 as of May. His audience grew further with the help of “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, who promoted Gordon’s work.

Stories from across the country poured in, mostly from black and Latino single mothers asking for her help. Gordon said she raised $ 150,000 in the first week of March as the lockdowns began. Overall, she said, her Instagram efforts have raised more than $ 250,000, helped house 121 families at risk of eviction in temporary housing, filled Christmas wish lists. of 324 families, 120 Mother’s Day wish lists and awarding scholarships to 11 single women of color to help them. pursue their educational goals.

Gordon said she shared receipts with donors to show where exactly the money had gone and that she required hardship documents like an eviction notice or invoice. She says she pays the owners or sends the groceries 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 rent assistance – but experts noted that there are some who still fall through the cracks.

A recent study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, suggests that millions of Americans still struggle to pay their rent, buy food and get basic necessities.

The study also found that 11% of adults in households with children were likely to say they did not have enough to eat in May, compared to 7% for households without children. According to the study, about 10.9 million adults living in rental housing – 15% of all adult renters – also failed to catch up on their payments.

Waving his wand across America

Gordon has since transformed 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 with the emergency [electricity bills]. But the next step is employment or education, because you can’t go broke again after we help you, ”she said.

She added, “The reason I do the work I do for the marginalized community is that I have lived it.”

Shirnique Murray with her daughter Aya.Courtesy of Shirnique Murray

Shirnique Murray, a 30-year-old single mom in Florida, said she stumbled across Gordon’s Instagram in May 2020 when the need was immediate.

She had to quit her job at a merchandising company due to lack of child care due to school closures. The casual job she found was not enough to pay the bills and feed her family. She said 48 hours after contacting Gordon on Instagram, there was shopping 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 it, she did it right away,” Murray said. “I was grateful, grateful and excited.”

Gordon said doing the job had been rewarding 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 as the nation was largely stranded.

“I had a depression because everything hit me, my son did not understand why he could not go out. I was confined to a house and people only sent 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.

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