Community stories: Why support the We Love MI campaign?

May 15, 2020 | by Michaela Isaacs

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Contributed article by Michaela Isaacs, Mercer Island High School student

Contrary to Mercer Island’s affluent reputation, the need among the island’s small businesses, non-profits, and families has never been greater during these trying times.

Some of the island’s families have been facing the difficult question of whether to pay their bills or rent; businesses are unsure about the state of their future; and nonprofits are wondering if they will be able to continue to serve the community with their growing deficit in funding. Regardless, we all are facing the ever-present uncertainty of what both Mercer Island and the global economic situation will look like once this is over.

Yet, like a rainstorm, we simply have to look for a rainbow to feel a glimmer of hope that once this is over, we can get back to ‘normal’ – the We Love MI campaign being that rainbow.

Support for local businesses

The We Love MI campaign has done incredibly well since it launched, a mere few weeks ago. With over 15 local businesses and more joining every day, the campaign has helped raise over $65,000 in donations for the island’s hard-hit small businesses.

Studio 904 was one of the first businesses to join the We Love MI campaign. Owner Kay Hirai appreciated the concept of the campaign in her decision to join.

“I had a hard time feeling good about asking people to donate but I soon felt comfortable, knowing that people were supporting my business because they wanted to see us make it through this coronavirus epidemic,” she said.

A community business leader, Hiraid added: “during this time … all businesses are more than hurting. I predict that it will be very hard for the next year. We can re-open but many businesses will not be able to keep going. We need a lot of community support to keep our businesses productive and able to create the revenue to pay our wage and overhead.”

Studio 904 has raised over $5,000, almost half of their goal, to help the salon survive through the shutdown.

“The donations we continue to receive from our clients, friends, and the Mercer Island community will help us to sustain with our basic expenses during this downtime,” said Hirai.

In response to the outpouring of support for her business, Hirai said it was “amazing to be showered in love and generosity.”

Support for local non-profit organizations

In addition to helping facilitate donations to local businesses, the ‘We Love MI’ campaign has helped local nonprofits fundraise so they can continue to serve the community during this pandemic.

Many of these nonprofits are seeing the greatest levels of need, but are facing the lowest levels of financial support in their history. Mercer Island’s nonprofits span a varied range, but one of the oldest and largest providing community and cultural programs is the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC).

The SJCC was one of the first local nonprofits to partner with the ‘We Love MI’ campaign to compensate for their significant decrease in revenue, in hopes to save as many staff as possible and bounce back after the stay-home order ends.

As is often the case when income is lacking, expenses remain. Jenna Sytman, an employee of the SJCC, said that “right now the SJCC is spending over $55,000 per week just to keep our organization alive, online, and on the ground.”

According to Sytman, most of the community donations are paying for the salaries of those who are still working, bringing online content to the community, and planning for our reopening.

Sometimes the desire to do good requires extraordinary financial commitment. Sytman said that SJCC pays 100% of the health insurance premiums for their staff regardless of the number of hours they work, and also said the organization provides an emergency fund to support those who are struggling financially during this time.

Besides these expenses and staff salaries, the SJCC’s other expenses include funding their online exercise classes that are reaching seniors and tot-Shabbat that brings hundreds of preschool age children together for a spirited weekly Zoom session.

Sytman said that the purpose for donations provided through the We Love MI campaign is to fund “moments of joy and safety for people in our community.”

“We’re truly touched by the community’s generosity and the We Love MI Campaign is just another example of the community’s generosity,” she said.

When asked about how the community can continue to support both the SJCC and other MI nonprofits and businesses alike, Sytman reminds us that the “greatest need is continued participation and support.” However, if you’re a member of the SJCC, Sytman encourages you to “keep paying your monthly dues. If you’re a family in the Early Childhood School, donate all or some of your tuition to our organization. These gifts will help us reopen with the same friendly faces you know when it is safe to do so.”

Overall, the SJCC hopes to fundraise $500,000 and so far, has raised roughly $50,000 from community donations.

The island’s diversity in nonprofits makes it hard to imagine just how different our lives will be if these nonprofits do not receive the funding they need to continue to support the community. Perhaps Liat Perlman, a Senior at MIHS and employee and long term supporter of the SJCC, says it best.

“[The SJCC] is essential for the progression and strength of the Mercer Island Jewish Community. So many families rely on it for child care, preschool, a workout facility, and an overall wonderful place to gather,” she said.

The SJCC has been a home to so many, yet is struggling to support both their staff and community during these uncertain times; hence, community donations are key to its survival.

Like the SJCC, many island non-profit organizations are dynamic and fit into our lives in hundreds of irreplaceable ways, giving us support in times of need, a community, and oftentimes a feeling of belonging and home. The We Love MI campaign provides a way for the community to come together to support these non-profits in this great time of need.

Support for Mercer Island Youth & Family Services

The Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) department provides food support through the Mercer Island Food Bank and offers emergency assistance and mental and emotional support services to the larger community and to the school community through district counselors.

MIYFS also manages the iconic and beloved Mercer Island Thrift Store, where proceeds from donations support MIYFS operations and services.

Since the stay at home order, the Mercer Island Food Bank has seen dramatically increased need among community members. Derek Franklin, the MIYFS Senior Program Manager and Clinical Supervisor, said that about 125 islanders are approved to use the food pantry and that MIYFS has transitioned to providing only grocery store gift cards during the coronavirus epidemic.

Franklin said, “donations from islanders have allowed the food pantry to continue to provide food cards at a rate that would have otherwise been unsustainable for YFS. Moving forward, additional funds will be needed to meet demand as a lack of savings and underemployment catch up to islanders already living close to the edge.”

Due to the loss of funding resulting from the closure of the Mercer Island Thrift Store – which, according to Franklin, funds over 60% of the entire MIYFS budget – MIYFS is finding it difficult to continue operations as normal. The City has laid off 22 MIYFS staff members, and an additional 6 positions have been placed on a 90-day standby layoff.

Despite these significant staffing changes, Franklin provided reassurance, stating that “fewer reductions will take place in senior services and emergency financial assistance staffing because of the high demand for these services during the coronavirus response.”

Franklin added that ways the community can support ongoing needs for YFS include donations for rent assistance, food cards ($25 and $50 denominations), donations to the MIYFS Foundation, as well as un-obligated donations to the City to support staff time.

Fortunately, the MIYFS is one of several nonprofits who have partnered with the We Love MI campaign to look to community fundraising to partly substitute their revenue stream. So far the MIYFS has raised over $7,000 in hopes of both preserving jobs as well as being able to continue to support those in need in our community.

Learn more – donate today!

For our small businesses to survive the pandemic and for our nonprofits to be able to fill the growing community need during the pandemic, we need to continue to fundraise as a community and support the businesses and nonprofits that make Mercer Island the wonderful and dynamic place it is.

Hence, the We Love MI campaign encourages all islanders to participate in the campaign. After all, we can’t truly get back to ‘normal’ if we are losing our beloved small businesses, essential nonprofits, and the Mercer Island Youth & Family Services department – all of which make up the fabric of our community.

Learn more and donate to the We Love MI campaign by visiting: www.welovemi.org

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