Erin Stone sorts through piles of donated goods. Though the city has been under stay-at-home orders, she is still working, along with the 21 nonprofits that make up the Fruit Ridge Collaborative. They’re assembling clothing packages, giving out hot meals, helping people find work and providing Zoom counseling sessions to the community — all services provided free of cost.
“We’re just trying to make sure that we have stuff for all of our families, especially as the weather starts to change, but they can’t just go to the store and pick up clothes and T-shirts right now,” said Stone, who is the collaborative’s site manager.
She says the need for the nonprofits’ services has been even greater during the pandemic. But the collaborative, which operates out of a former elementary school in Oak Park, may be facing an even bigger challenge than the coronavirus.
Their lease with Sacramento City Unified School District ends in July, and they may not have the funds to renew it.
Staci Anderson, director of PRO Youth and Families, the organization that manages the collaborative, says they are looking for funding and working on a sustainability plan to make sure the Fruit Ridge Collaborative can keep going.
The group had been hoping for $85,000 from the city’s Measure U fund to cover its lease and some plans for expansion and building upkeep. Measure U was a half-cent sales tax expansion approved by voters in 2018, and city officials promised much of it would go toward development in underserved neighborhoods.
In February, Fruit Ridge Collaborative presented to the Measure U Community Advisory Committee and was working on revisions to its proposal.
“We were very, very close to receiving that money,” Anderson said.
But then the coronavirus hit, and stay-at-home orders shuttered businesses across the city.
Now, in its recent budget proposal, the city manager’s office anticipates a $90 million loss in revenue, and the city is looking toward Measure U — which had been bringing in about $80 to $90 million a year in sales tax — to close the gap.
That means possibly no funding for groups like the Fruit Ridge Collaborative.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg says he hopes that some federal stimulus money — of which Sacramento received $89.6 million — could be used instead.
“I did promise the voters that we would devote the majority of that second half-cent [of Measure U] to economic inclusion, to invest in workforce and young people, job creation and affordable housing,” Steinberg said. “Now, of course, what is happening because of COVID-19 is that the city finance department projects that the bottom is going to fall out of the city sales tax revenue.”
The federal funds have certain restrictions, however; they must be spent before the end of the calendar year, for example, and can’t be used to fill budget gaps. City Council will be looking at how to allocate these funds in the coming weeks.
Yvette Madkins runs Outside the Walls, a small nonprofit that is a part of the Fruit Ridge Collaborative and is dedicated to counseling inmates and former inmates. She says she hoped the city would eventually be able to give money to Fruit Ridge Collaborative.
“We’re looking forward to the city staying true to their word so we can continue to do our part to help better our communities,” Madkins said.
But Stevante Clark, who is on the Measure U Community Advisory Committee that was reviewing proposals like Fruit Ridge Collaborative’s back in February, was not so sure.
“We talked about Measure U, we got it approved, we say it’s for an inclusive economy for all, but what we’re not doing is we’re not seeing it,” Clark said. “I’m just upset on how our communities are used to get a lot of measures passed, but once they’re passed our communities get tossed in the back.”
Anderson is also worried. She said her organization has been applying elsewhere for funding and is actively negotiating with the school district, but she also acknowledges that funds are difficult to find anywhere at this point.
“What we’ve seen repeatedly is the promise of Measure U,” she said. “We were super close and now we’re back to zero. I don’t have great faith that we’ll end up seeing any of that money.”
The collaborative has until July 1 to negotiate a new lease with the school district.
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