The idea to send money to support undocumented families of Bridges Academy at Melrose in East Oakland started before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The father of two Bridges students passed away unexpectedly, and the Bridges community rallied to support: raising money to help the family bury him in his native Honduras; they helped the mother, now without a source of income, find work.
When the pandemic shut down schools and businesses, Bridges’ principal Anita Iverson-Comelo immediately thought of the mother and this family: “How is she going to survive, she has no income,” said Iverson-Comelo, who has been at Bridges for 18 years, first as a teacher, the last five as principal. “She’s not going to be able to work during the shelter in place.”
Bridges teachers were doing wellness checks with all their students, and hearing that their families were stressed, stretched thin and didn’t have many of the basics. The Bridges staff looked at the data and saw that a great majority of the families — 80 percent — no longer had any income coming in, and didn’t qualify to receive a stimulus check. Hundreds of families.
So Iverson-Comelo and her husband decided they would donate their stimulus checks to that family. “Then I thought maybe there are other people like me who are working and not as impacted right now, financially, and also want to spare their checks,” Iverson-Comelo said.
Iverson-Comelo sent an email to teachers and got a response right away: eight teachers immediately responded that they would donate all or some of their check. During Spring Break, she then asked a group of OUSD principals if they would also like to donate their stimulus checks.
“100 percent said they would donate their checks, or if they don’t qualify for a check, they would give a donation,” Iverson-Comelo said. Her husband created a website StimulusPledge.org to collect donations not just from teachers or educators or those receiving a stimulus check, but anyone who would like to donate to support Bridges families.
The response has only grown since: up to 683 donations so far. As of last week, 245 people have pledged their stimulus checks, including 61 teachers. And there were 438 donations. The Stimulus Pledge has been covered by news outlets including The San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, The San Jose Mercury News, EdSource and The Oakland Post.
“The teachers at our school, they don’t make a lot of money,” Iverson-Comelo said. “Our new teachers make like $49,000 per year. To see people who don’t have a lot giving during this time to people who have even less and can’t pay rent or basic bills like electricity, it’s very heartening. It feeds the human spirit to see how people are helping one another right now.”
The pledge is open-ended as the families’ needs are dynamic: some who could pay rent in April won’t be able to in May. The Bridges educators are in this for the long haul: after all, they were looking for ways to support families before the pandemic and will do so after, too. This is what they do.
“We have a really strong community,” Iverson-Comelo said. “Our teachers, our other staff from our custodians, office staff, noon supervisors — they’re really there for the families and the kids. When we interview, we hire people who are aligned to our vision and the mission of our school.
“When people come to work at Bridges, it isn’t for a high salary or for cushy working conditions: they’re there to support our families and our kids in East Oakland.”