When COVID-19 hit Ann Arbor, alumna Davon Smith (A.B. ’20) had nothing but time, she says, but she knew what she wanted to do with it: She wanted to help.
She started with a grant application to a U-M student group for funding to provide essential supplies for homeless Ann Arborites. It wasn’t selected, which was disappointing. But Smith went ahead with making care packages consisting of gloves, food, and masks for people without homes.
As Smith had been trying to figure out the best ways to help people in Ann Arbor, things got worse for many in her hometown of Chicago. First, there was COVID-19 and the first waves of job loss. Then the city experienced terrible floods after record rainfall. And in June, there was additional job loss after the looting that followed some of the protests against police violence. Smith’s resolve to act grew stronger. “I had to do something,” she says.
Smith started a GoFundMe campaign and began fundraising. She reached out to everyone she knew, she says, raising awareness of the fund and the specific problems affecting lower-income communities in Chicago. The money Smith has raised helps families to pay rent and utility bills, to buy food and distance learning supplies for children whose schools have gone virtual, and to stay in hotels when they have been displaced. As of July, the project has raised more than $2,000 and has supported seven families. And it’s still growing.
“One of the first families we helped was headed by a single mother who had lost her job and was homeless,” Smith says. “She needed to know that she and her infant son could afford food to eat while she figures things out.”
On campus, Smith had been very active in student organizations, including the CrossFit Club and the now-defunct Ghost Hunters Club. (She never met any ghosts, she says, but she did meet a lot of great people.) And now she's finding that the professional contacts that she developed and the U-M organizations she connected with have helped her realize her ability to have an impact on the world.
“I encourage people to give, even if it’s just a little, and even if it’s not to my project,” Smith says. “And I encourage people to start their own cause. There are so many people that need to be helped, not just in Chicago, but in Michigan and everywhere else. Whatever you can do, it’s helpful.”
Smith is still committed to both projects—one to support Ann Arbor homeless (which she pays for out of pocket) and one to support at-risk people in Chicago. Smith’s goal is to keep both going as long as she can.
“Every day I think, ‘Even if no one gives any more money, we’ve still done great work,’” she says. “I believe that stable access to food and shelter is a basic human right, and I don’t think I’ll ever end the fund as long as people are donating. Because I can still help people.”
Top image courtesy of Davon Smith