With Spare Change News closed, a local fund awards one SCN vendor-writer a way to pay rent

Governor Baker’s March 23 emergency order for all non-essential businesses to close impacted Spare Change News and its vendors like myself significantly.

Spare Change News closed its doors for 11 weeks and reopened Friday, June 12. Over the past three months, I sold older back issues to the public in my Coolidge Corner, Brookline spot. Sales were slow and tips were lower than usual. 

I started to look for financial assistance to pay my basics like rent, medication, and MBTA. I applied to the City of Cambridge for COVID-19 relief funds but was rejected because they do not provide financial assistance to public housing tenants. I looked on the Internet for groups that provide financial assistance.

I read on the Cambridge Community Foundation web site that they launched two emergency relief funds coinciding with their mission of protecting the city’s wellbeing. I have familiarity with the Cambridge Community Foundation as a vendor-writer having previously published a 2018 article covering their Immigrant Legal Defense Fund. 

The week of March 19, CCF jump-started the Cambridge COVID-19 Emergency Fund and the Artists Relief Fund to help people, nonprofits, and cultural organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Collectively these two funds initially infused locally $350,000 into the community. These funds provided individuals and families with grants of up to $1,000 and $10,000 to nonprofits serving families and children.

In 2020, CCF awarded me a $500 COVID-19 Emergency Fund emergency pandemic relief grant. This emergency grant was used to help pay rent for my studio apartment.

My interest in the Cambridge COVID-19 Emergency Fund grant began a month earlier in April,

when I contacted Lauren Marshall, Director of Marketing and Civic Engagement, about writing an article covering these funds. Marshall had suggested that I look into applying for a COVID-19 Emergency grant myself after highlighting the newspaper’s closing. I decided that I should take a look to see what the grant required.

In our conversations, Marshall elaborated about the startup of these emergency funds.

“We have processed and sent out electronically 100 individual grants through the end of March. We are focusing on raising funds from individuals and corporations that have offices in the city,” Marshall said.

Over the next three weeks, I downloaded the application and started to organize the paperwork. This online application was three pages in length with simple instructions. It included information on the grant funding range for both residents of $200 to $1,000 and special grants of up to $10,000 to local nonprofits. 

I filled out the online form and included required information like my name along with mailing and email address. I created a one paragraph personal hardship statement covering how Spare Change’s closing impacted my ability to pay basic expenses. I followed with a validation letter from a church group that I work with. I included a rent bill as a proof of residency. I uploaded these materials and got a statement of verification. 

I had a browser which was working very slow and contacted CCF to get verification that they received the documents.

Marshall, the CCF administrator, promptly responded to me later the same day. “You will be part of our second wave of April grantees,“ Marshall said. “You will be one of the 200 applicants which we have just approved.”

Marshall sent a second statement highlighting the fund’s growth.

“We have raised $850,000,“ Marshall said. “We will continue raising funds and processing 

applications at least through the summer.”

I received a third email the beginning of the following week. This notification requested that I send my bank name and routing number. I received the grant at the end of the fourth week in April.

Marshall sent an update to me in late May.

“We have raised 1 million dollars,” Marshall said. “We have processed over 1,000 grant applications

for both of our emergency relief funds.”

The Cambridge Community Foundation announced on its web site that they have sent out 1,100 grants totaling more than $1 million. At least, $895,000 was allocated to community members or households in need. 

Subsequently, CCF concluded in an online notice that the demand for grants has exceeded available funds and they are closed the application process for now.

Image courtesy of the Cambridge Community Foundation. 




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