The cancellation of SXSW due to concerns over the coronavirus Covid-19 is a blow to local businesses, their employees, and the self-employed who have come to rely on the annual boost to the local economy. Last year, that boost was a whopping $356 million, with much of that supporting self-employed and hourly workers. That’s why the announcement on March 6 was met with a swift reaction from the community to support the people for whom SXSW makes up so much of their income.
Now that Central Texans are increasingly asked to stay home from all outings, and gatherings of 250 or more are prohibited, people in the service industry will see even fewer shifts available. A number of campaigns created by motivated individuals and businesses urge Austinites to tip more, go to bars and restaurants, or employ the hourly and contract workers. But two philanthropic funds also launched quickly, both managed by charitable organizations and each benefiting the community in different ways.
The day after the cancellation announcement, the Austin Community Foundation partnered with the Entrepreneurs Foundation to launch the Stand with Austin Fund. In a video promoting the fund, Sen. Kirk Watson said, “You can make a contribution to help those people who are hit the hardest by this and are the least likely to come out of it.”
To donate to the Stand with Austin Fund supporting workers facing income shortages with the cancellation of SXSW and other major events:
Austin Community Foundation is well-versed in creating and administering disaster-recovery funds. In the past, it had created and administered funds for victims of the Bastrop wildfires, the driving assault on SXSW attendees, and Hurricane Harvey. “We know how to set this up quickly and get the fundraising going to help the individuals most impacted,” said Misty Whited, vice president for marketing and communications at ACF.
But donors need to know that all ACF funds can only be granted to nonprofits, not individuals. “That’s the main difference with the way we operate,” said Whited. “We grant to nonprofits that are best experienced and equipped to help individuals, who work with them on a daily basis and know what their true needs are.” Whited said nonprofits that provide assistance with bills, housing, and health care to hourly-wage workers will likely be recipients of the funds. “We have a process in place with governance and criteria for directing the funds,” she said. “We’re trying to be the best stewards for our community.”
ACF is currently assembling a community advisory committee that understands the issue, but Whited says that, as the fund is only about a week old, it’s unlikely to start making grants this month. Fundraising has begun, however, and so far, a donor has committed to match donations dollar-for-dollar, up to $150,000. Whited said there are also concerts and events benefiting the fund all over town.
Taking a different approach on charitable funds is the Southern Smoke Foundation in Houston, which created the Relief for Austin Fund. Southern Smoke operates multiple funds that benefit food and beverage industry professionals who need financial help with medical bills, family support, disaster recovery, and more.
To donate to the Relief for Austin fund supporting people working in the food and beverage industry facing income shortages with the cancellation of SXSW and other major events:
Southern Smoke Foundation, then click “Donate” and choose “Relief for Austin”
“We serve a huge industry that doesn’t have a safety net,” said Kathryn Lott, executive director. Southern Smoke has a special designation that allows it to distribute the funds directly to individuals. Lott says in their experience, hourly-wage workers don’t always have the tools or capabilities to seek out and apply for relief funds. In addition to fundraising, Southern Smoke helps individual applicants navigate the necessary requirements for receiving the funds. “We don’t want there to be any sort of barrier between someone and the funds they need,” said Lott.