While many communities throughout the country are reeling from economic and social justice issues to health concerns regarding COVID-19, in the historical San Francisco neighborhood known as the Fillmore District, neighbors are banding together to create stability, secure financial backing for Black-owned businesses, feed at-risk seniors and children and lift spirits.
“We created the Fillmore Merchants and Neighborhood Collaborative with NCLF and ABC Consulting to serve our people in need,” said Pia Harris, owner of the catering company Nia Soul.
“We started bringing food to 50 seniors a day, all free, then Nia Soul got a large contract with SF New Deal to feed a hundred seniors and the homeless a day,” Harris said.
Once word got out, the Reverend Robert Shaw II, pastor of Bethel AME Church San Francisco, reached out to Harris’ mom, Adrian Williams with the Village Project, a nonprofit for area youth, to donate money for the free grocery bags for the elderly and see what else church members could do for the District’s African American community.
“They heard African-American-owned businesses were struggling and my mom referred him to me because of the Fillmore Collaborative,” Harris said.
“Pastor Rob asked me to send them a list of 40 African-American small businesses in the Fillmore District by the end of the day. Bethel AME sent out 40 checks to these businesses for $2,500 by the next Monday,” she said.
Harris’ catering company is being sustained by SF New Deal, she said, so she used the donation money and a grant from the Success Center to create The Heritage Market San Francisco (heritagemarketsf.com), a website assisting Fillmore District’s Black-owned businesses adjust to COVID-19 mandates by offering demand delivery and other services.
Many of those vendors and businesses were formerly in the Fillmore Heritage Center but after there forced the closure, no one could utilize the building.
The Fillmore Heritage Center was built in 2007 as a way to revitalize San Francisco’s one-time center of African American culture. Closed in 2015, the Heritage Center reopened a few years later as a place for small businesses, both brick-and-mortar and mobile, to serve the local community; but after the building was once again closed last year, those businesses were left with no place to go.
Harris credits local business leaders and members of Bethel AME for bringing hope and optimism to the Fillmore District through financial and emotional support.
“Church members said the $2,500 checks were so successful they sent another $2,500 to each business for a total of $5,000 for each business. You can’t believe what a difference this has made to our neighborhood.
“The church’s $5,000 per business has done so many amazing things – that’s $200,000 so the economy stays stable and we can help our neighborhood,” she said.
“We are now providing 75 bags of groceries a day to our seniors as well as serving lunches to our children. My mom’s nonprofit is holding ZOOM dancing lessons, African American small businesses can offer services again including food and necessary items.
“My mom named her nonprofit The Village Project because it ‘takes a village,’ and all our efforts together are what is keeping the Fillmore District stabilized,” Harris said. “We’ve had graduation celebrations donated by Rico Hamilton with The Black Community Equity Group for our kids, health services and mental health services – not all the deaths here are related to COVID-19 — and we still have many needs.
“There are so many people helping out – too many to name – we are extremely grateful to Pastor Rob, members of Bethel AME and the business leaders who have reached out to us,” Harris said.
“The ZOOM meetings, the food deliveries, the community events, our African-American small businesses reopening — it really does take a village and together, we in the Fillmore District will pull through and become stronger.”