INVESTING IN COMMUNITIES
Community Investments Make Huge Impact With Local Grants
The MUFG Union Bank Community Recovery Program recently closed on schedule, with $10 million in community investments being given through 461 local grants to nonprofit organizations over two years across the West Coast as well as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and New York City.
The Community Recovery Program (CRP) was created in 2020 using funds the bank received making Paycheck Protection Program loans. The program was designed to support nonprofit organizations with community investments dedicated to social and economic justice within communities of color. It focuses on building economic stability, including supporting access to capital, entrepreneurship, job retention and retraining, driving equity through systems change, and providing critical social safety net services through local grants.
The CRP focused its giving on small business recovery efforts, rebuilding the workforce, building financial security, and driving equity through systems change.
“This program leveraged the bank differently than our traditional charitable contributions program,” says Julius Robinson, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for the Americas for MUFG Union Bank. “We expanded engagement beyond our foundation board and local area committees to include colleagues who bring additional perspectives and experience, including our Enterprise Resource Groups. These colleagues represented the populations we wanted to serve and used the power of their voices to strengthen the program.”
The vast majority of the grants awarded were for less than $25,000, with some being as low as $1,000.
“A lot of other financial institutions just wrote large checks to a few CDFIs (community development financial institutions) and were done, but we got into the weeds,” says Frank Robinson, Head of Diverse Markets and Community-Based Programs Executive for MUFG Union Bank. “Our committee got deep into the issues around social and racial justice. We attacked problems plaguing small businesses in our community. We looked for – and found – organizations that are doing great work at the grassroots level.”
Helping homeless individuals
One example is the Los Angeles chapter of Back on My Feet, which helps homeless individuals build confidence and work toward independence through fitness, practical training, and employment resources.
One program participant named Joe came to Back on My Feet seeking a change after periods of homelessness and incarceration, says Andrea Enfield, Development Director, West Region, for Back on My Feet.
Initially excited to receive new shoes and start a regular jogging routine with the Back on My Feet team, Joe successfully participated in the organization’s workforce development and financial literacy programs, ultimately landing a job with the Salvation Army.
A CRP grant of $10,000 will help Back on My Feet continue to assist people who need it, Enfield says.
"Thanks to the support of MUFG Union Bank, Back on My Feet members like Joe gained access to vital resources as they worked toward goals of employment and self-sufficiency,” she says. “We're grateful to celebrate so many Back on My Feet alumni, like Joe, who gained employment last year."
Feeding people who are food insecure
Another grassroots non-profit organization the program helped is the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, which received a $15,000 grant from the bank.
While Santa Barbara may be known as a wealthy community, there is a large Mixtec indigenous population with disproportionately high poverty rates and who are often isolated from social services due to language barriers. In fiscal year 2021, the foodbank distributed 18 million pounds of healthy food to more than 190,000 low-income clients.
Many of its clients rely on free and reduced-cost lunches for their children during the school year. When school is out for summer, the food bank’s Picnic in the Park program offers free and healthy lunches.
One Picnic in the Park volunteer shared a story about providing lunch to a 14-year-old boy who had come to the United States from Honduras.
“He was so glad to know he could get lunch from us every weekday,” the volunteer said.
Serving the service industry
Restaurants were among the hardest-hit businesses during the first two years of the pandemic, and one way the CRP helped provide relief was through a $50,000 grant to Hot Bread Kitchen, a virtual small business incubator focused on providing critical and customized services and programs to restaurant entrepreneurs who are predominantly immigrant women and women of color in New York City.
Hot Bread Kitchen provides one-to-one mentoring to its members, as well as educational programs around business fundamentals, access to market, and how to access capital. It also helps aspiring entrepreneurs self-identify whether launching a small food business is an opportunity they’re ready to pursue.
The CRP grant to Hot Bread Kitchen was earmarked to support small business owners and entrepreneurs who were struggling after COVID-19 forced them to either close or severely reduce operations.
One beneficiary of the CRP grant was Jesebel Gumogda, owner of Pure Confections. She had joined Hot Bread Kitchen shortly after starting her business in 2018 and wasn’t sure the business would make it through 2020.
Hot Bread Kitchen provided services to Gumogda, including helping her land a contract with a large company committed to supplier diversity, and Gumogda was able to keep the business afloat and actually grow it in 2021.
“My business is something that I wanted to start as a legacy for my family. … Not only for my future children, but for my siblings and nieces and nephews,” she said. “I wanted to inspire them that they can do more.”
Small grants with big impacts
The stories above highlight just a few of the hundreds of organizations that the CRP lifted.
“When you look collectively at the impact of the mostly small grants awarded through the CRP, the numbers can be staggering,” Julius Robinson says. “We can all feel good about how the program achieved its goal of helping put disproportionately served populations on the road to recovery in communities all across the country.”