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On GoFundMe in the time of coronavirus: pleas in the dark for money for food and rent

Roberta Wall, a performer and a singing waitress at Miceli's Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, has been out of work since mid-March when the restaurant closed to dine-in customers due to the coronavirus outbreak.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

They are cries in the dark, on GoFundMe, to strangers. Pleas for any aid, even $1, to help pay the rent or fill an empty fridge.

Hello, I wanted to start this page to get some funds together for food and water...

this crisis has me without job, anything helps, single mom of 4

I’m asking for help to weather this worldwide storm.

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One night this week at about 9, I went on the GoFundMe website and burrowed in with search after search: Los Angeles and coronavirus, Los Angeles and COVID-19, Los Angeles and lost my job, Los Angeles and desperate.

Past 2 a.m., I was still there, unable to stop reading — floored all over again by a breadth of hardship I had thought I understood.

I did everything right, I supported myself, I followed the rules, and yet here I am up a creek without a paddle.

I’ve tried every way possible and this really is a last resort.

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I know everyone else is struggling too.

GoFundMe, when you start scratching below the surface right now, is a gut punch of unfiltered, raw need. Children asking for help to bury parents felled by the virus. Mothers struggling to feed their babies. Shops and restaurants trying to drum up support for laid-off workers but also rent money to survive long enough to be able to reopen and rehire them.

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So many shops and restaurants I’ve frequented. So many people whose means of earning a living don’t make sense in the moment.

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Dry cleaners who provide crisp work clothes that we don’t wear when we don’t go to work. Massage therapists who can’t knead our muscles without standing too close. Preschools — as if, at a time like this, we’d send our littlest ones out into the world.

People who say they are still awaiting government aid or they’ve tried unsuccessfully to get it. People in distress whose brief, blunt appeals read like private prayers summoning a savior.

On the site are big crowdfunding successes whose organizers receive more than they ask for — but also many campaigns that ask for little and receive nothing. So many are asking, after all, at a time when relatively few of us are confident enough in the future to feel we have a lot to spare.

Please, if you are someone of means, help us out! I know there are probably people who need help more, but we will be in danger of losing everything! Thank you!

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This is some of what Roberta Wall posted in the middle of March, after she lost both her jobs. She is 63. She sings and dances and has performed on Broadway. She’s on the road at least four months a year in “Menopause the Musical,” but that won’t happen this year. For more than 33 years, with breaks for shows, she’s been a singing waitress at Miceli’s on Cahuenga Boulevard. Maybe you’ve heard her, over pizza and pasta, entertain you with a number from “Beauty and the Beast”? But that job disappeared on March 16 when restaurants went takeout and delivery only.

Her husband teaches theater arts at Los Angeles Valley College — and his pay covers the mortgage of their Alhambra home. But her money is needed for other bills, and he isn’t paid in the summer. Wall felt “panic, pure panic,” she told me when she lost her ability to earn.

Then her daughter and son-in-law — who sing and serve at a bar in New York — found themselves out of work and sick in their tiny apartment, with all the symptoms of the coronavirus. Wall has been sick with worry, though they appear to have turned a corner.

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She’s begun to receive unemployment help now, though money’s still very tight. She got $250 from a relief fund for artists. She’s gotten no online donations.

When she posted her campaign on GoFundMe, she told me, she didn’t tell a soul. She was hoping for a random rich patron.

“Every friend I have is in the same boat. Who would be able to give me money?” she said. “I don’t have doctor friends. I don’t have lawyer friends.”

I thought we were gonna have a job to go back to, but I guess not.

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That’s what Vanessa Cordero posted under the title: #nowork coronavirus.

Until recently, Cordero, 31, worked at a Regency Theatre in Commerce. She spent Saturdays at the East L.A. Skills Center, training to be a school custodian, hoping for a job with the L.A. Unified School District. Then the theater was forced to shut and she got laid off and told she’d have to reapply for her job. Meanwhile, her classes went online and the school district closed, leaving her prospects less promising for an immediate job doing summertime deep cleaning after she gets her certificate in June.

Cordero lives at her dad’s house in Boyle Heights, which he’s afraid of losing, she says. He’s a welder in construction and is now making parts for hospitals (a contract whose details he won’t tell her), but he’s bringing home less money. Cordero hasn’t received federal or state help yet. She’s waiting. She said she hoped to give the GoFundMe money to her father. But, like Wall, she got no contributions, probably because she didn’t tell anyone she knew.

“I felt embarrassed in a way,” she told me about asking for money, “because no one in my family does that.”

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It happened. Coronavirus hit hard and I lost all sources of income.

Jake Bender, 24, is one of the lucky ones. He asked for $500 on GoFundMe last month and received just slightly over that amount. He wasn’t shy about sharing his campaign — and nine people, mostly from his hometown of Conrad, Mont., came through. He arrived here to be an actor after college, two years ago. He’s made ends meet in the gig economy, working now and then for a home staging company, driving for Lyft and doing odd jobs for TaskRabbit. But all his income sources dried up with the shutdown. The last time he drove for Lyft, he says, he made $4 in two hours. One day in March, he earned $40 moving a very heavy dresser.

The GoFundMe money helped him cover his $920 share of his Los Feliz apartment’s rent last month. When I spoke to him on Thursday he had $920 to his name — just enough to pay the rent due Friday. Early on, his mother sent him a big care package of ramen, Velveeta Shells & Cheese and Tuna Helper. The other day he found a bargain at the store: $4 for three chicken breasts. Meanwhile, he still has a student loan, a car payment and car insurance to pay. And he has yet to get his first unemployment money.

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Lost my job because of corona. I need this money to pay parts of bills to stay afloat. Anything will help please.

At the beginning of last month, Ulises Ramirez, 27, was furloughed from his job managing a shoe store in Commerce. He had about $1,000 in savings at the time. And even though the company paid out his vacation time, he’s now down to $400 in savings and about the same in his checking account. He shares an apartment in Whittier with friends, paying $550 a month.

With his roommates all working from home though, he’s moved in with his mother and his sister in East L.A. He has credit card debt and loans. Except for his car payment, he says, he’s having trouble getting payments deferred. He still hasn’t heard anything about his unemployment application filed on April 12 and doesn’t even know if it went through.

Meanwhile, he’s received no GoFundMe donations, even though he shared his campaign on social media. In his working-class world, he says, everyone is hurting.

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“There’s an avalanche of GoFundMe’s like mine,” he said. “And you can’t ask your neighbor, you can’t ask a friend.”

So you cry out in the dark and hope somebody, somewhere is listening.


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