COVID-19 Response Fund: ACRS addresses the intersection of racial equity and mental health

Receiving financial support from the COVID-19 Response Fund allowed Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) to continue providing essential, culturally relevant tools and resources to communities across the greater Seattle region.

Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) briefly stopped offering its essential services and closed its doors in March 2020 because of COVID-19. In an abundance of caution, Deputy Director Elisa Del Rosario joined her colleagues and vacated the building to make room for proper sanitation efforts, following King County Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. It took two weeks for the organization and its leaders to start providing in-person essential services and develop strategies to find the capacity for telehealth and remote work so staff could continue to provide its needed programs and services. ACRS has been a pillar in the community since 1973 and continued to be a lifeline to many in need as the pandemic negatively impacted families.

“Our food bank and senior meals program each experienced a 200-250% increase in demand – going from providing 600-700 food bags and meals per week to over 2,100 food bags and 2,100 meals weekly to meet the increased demands of those with food insecurities during the pandemic,” said Del Rosario.

“This will likely continue through the end of this year.” Challenges faced by ACRS and its partners are similar to other organizations providing food services across the country. Ahead of the 2021 holiday season, food banks continued to experience shortages due to issues that have stemmed as a result of the pandemic—rising costs due to inflation, increase in demand, and other setbacks.

woman with a mask and gloves on begins to place a bundle of carrots in a brown grocery bag

It makes the services offered by ACRS, including delivery of culturally appropriate food and grocery bags (rice, ramen, Asian staples, and produce) for its primarily Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) food bank clients, prepared and delivered meals for vulnerable and/or isolated seniors and families with young children, and sharing of food vouchers, so important. Along with paying attention to the physical well-being needs of its community, ACRS also provides in-person medication management, and intake and screening for behavioral health clients with chronic mental illness or substance use disorders.

Del Rosario has served in her current role for the last six years and, in total, dedicated more than 25 years of service to ACRS. She said her organization is grounded in a commitment to social justice and provides services that advance the health, well-being, dignity, and empowerment of AAPI people and other communities experiencing health, human services, and education disparities. Their efforts led Seattle Foundation to bestow a COVID-19 Response Fund grant to the team.

The COVID-19 Response Fund deployed resources to organizations supporting local workers and families most impacted by the coronavirus crisis. There have been multiple donation phases—the second round of grantees received $2,225,000 to support mental and behavioral services. ACRS specifically received $25,000, a donation that has played a pivotal role in helping its staff cover unanticipated costs during an uncertain time.

“Specifically, as soon as vaccines were locally available, it was helpful in covering our general operating costs as we co-hosted early vaccination clinics with partner organizations— [such as] International Community Health Services (ICHS)—to vaccinate our frontline workers and with our on-site Genoa Pharmacy to vaccinate our most vulnerable behavioral health clients who had barriers accessing mass vaccination clinics.”

Del Rosario

Highlighting the work done by ACRS could and should be done year-round, but is particularly relevant during the winter season when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is top of mind. Seasonal depression is felt all over the world, but the Seattle rainy season can be especially difficult for folks. Separately, racial inequity and injustice is negatively impacting the AAPI community.

“Clients’ existing mental health conditions are worsened by stress and fear from the political and social climate and heightened by the surge in anti-Asian sentiment, harassment, and violence related to COVID-19, including a rise in reports of hate crimes against Asians and Asian-owned businesses.”

Del Rosario

While dealing with a global pandemic, several people groups, including the AAPI community, experienced alarmingly heightened levels of hate and discrimination throughout the United States. Stop AAPI Hate recorded 6,603 hate incidents from March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021 and racism was declared a “serious public health threat” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many organizations across the greater Seattle region are trying to bring about change and offer support to those in most need. Along with ACRS, other organizations focused on serving the AAPI community and its wellness were COVID-19 Response Fund recipients:

This is not an exhaustive list of all the incredible organizations doing important work. In fact, groups have worked tirelessly to support others so much that it’s impacting their mental health. “Direct staff, as well as supervisory and management staff, have reported increased levels of stress and burnout from heavy workloads, secondary trauma witnessing clients’ struggle, decompensation, deaths, and compassion fatigue,” said Del Rosario.

At Seattle Foundation, staff-wide education has been implemented to better understand and address intersectionality of these different issues and how they continue to impact Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. This intentional investment contributed to the development of the Fund for Inclusive Recovery, meant to fight against growing inequity faced BIPOC populations.

The Fund is a direct evolution of COVID-19 Response Fund and an example of reimagined philanthropy grounded in deep, community-informed research. The goal is to raise $50 million over the next 5 years and make investments that will lay the groundwork for reinventing our region as we move through the current crisis to a reimagined, more equitable future. Our intent is to partner with and provide philanthropic support for organizational leaders in this work, who’ve been on the forefront of expanding equity and inclusion for decades.

“Most of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community-based organizations were founded about the same time—40-50 years ago—in response to a lack of culturally responsive, sensitive, relevant and/or bilingual services available through mainstream or government entities that could meet the needs of BIPOC communities,” Del Rosario said. “Hence, there is historical collaboration and advocacy among those of us who work in this space on behalf of BIPOC marginalized and/or underserved, vulnerable communities.”

Fostering that collaborative spirit is Del Rosario’s favorite part about working where she does. Her passion for supporting diverse communities importantly aligns with the Blueprint for Impact—to move toward eliminating all inequities in exchange for envisioning a thriving region of shared prosperity, belonging, and justice with all individuals and communities have equitable access and outcomes, regardless of race, place, or identity.

To learn more about Fund of Inclusive Recovery or how to donate, please email FIR@seattlefoundation.org and a member of our grantmaking team will respond.