#RENTRELIEF is a rather popular tag on social media nowadays, chronicling the struggles of thousands of individuals around the globe, unable to pay their bills as the coronavirus pandemic continues to paralyze economies.
It is also a hashtag of hope, exemplifying the actions of marketing entrepreneur Frederick Joseph, who last year was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising for raising $1 million so that 73,000 children worldwide could see the Black Panther movie.
Since the end of March, together with crowdfunding site GoFundMe, Joseph has spearheaded a campaign that has so far donated $310,000 in increments of $200 to some 1400 people around the world.
“Why don’t we start a campaign to raise money to just give people money; that’s what they really need right now,” says Joseph of how the initiative began.
The campaign emerged out of what Joseph considers one of U.S. lawmakers’ greatest failures in their response to the COVID-19 economic crisis: their inaction to freeze or cancel rent.
“While the money can be used for various things, one of the largest obstacles that people are facing right now is that they are having to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or eating at night,” Joseph says.
Although national rent collection surpassed expectation last month, roughly 30 million Americans have now filed for unemployment benefits, prompting industry experts as well as community leaders to anticipate a worst rent payment outcome in May.
As a result, grassroots organizations around the nation declared May 1 as Rent Strike Day, while several Democratic Congress members are pushing for rent relief programs as part of the next federal package to spur the economy.
Joseph is asking people to share their stories with him on social media, using #RENTRELIEF in their posts. There are single mothers tweeting at him. Fathers who have lost their jobs. Joseph, who was born in New York City, says he knows their ordeals.
“I’ve been in the same position as these people before,” he said. “I grew up in a poverty-stricken area, struggling for a long time. It really instilled in me the idea of giving back. I am trying to be like the people who helped me when I was growing up and dealing with hardships. I just want to be able to do my part. I think, everyone should be trying to do the same.”
He says he has given about $10,000 of his own money toward #RENTRELIEF, while GoFundMe has contributed another $10,000.
Largely sustained through small individual donations, the campaign is running out of dollars, Joseph said on Twitter yesterday, announcing that beneficiaries will be selected only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the week, he will focus on fundraising, he said.
Those seeking help have no campaign criteria to meet, aside from their financial hardships. Joseph says he checks individuals’ social media profiles and searches their names on the internet in order to vet their sincerity before sending them $200 via platforms such as PayPal
Sometimes, Joseph would send more, supplemented with his own money. Such was the case for a young mother who joined him during an Instagram live stream from her car, which had just broken down on the side of the road. Waiting for a tow truck, she told him she had only $100 left. In addition to the $200 from the campaign, Joseph personally sent her another $400, while some of his Instagram audience also chipped in.
“Seeing someone in that position is heartbreaking,” Joseph says. “Being able to help someone in that position means the world to me. I’m happy to have the opportunity to do it and the privilege.”