How a young woman on Chicago’s West Side infused a billionaire with the Christmas spirit of giving

But in a fairer society, there would be so much less need for charitable giving to begin with.

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Alycia Kamil with GoodKids MadCity, along with a coalition of local activist organizations, speaks to reporters about the Anjanette Young police raid, outside Chicago police headquarters at 35th and Michigan last week.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

At the end of a year that has seen particular hardships and struggles, hundreds of charitable organizations working to ease the pain got early Christmas gifts in the form of surprise multimillion dollar donations.

The money — some $4.2 billion in the last four months — was donated to 384 organizations across the country by the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, and she says her inspiration was a young Black woman on Chicago’s West Side, Alycia Kamil.

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“In March, a 19-year-old girl in Chicago sent a group text to her friends suggesting they buy supplies for people in their neighborhood who had lost their jobs,” Scott, the former wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, wrote recently, expressing her admiration for Kamil. “She posted two Google forms — one for people who needed help and another for people with help to give — and by two days later they’d raised $7,000.”

Two days. That’s all it took. And with that money, Kamil and her friends were able to deliver $200 to $300 worth of groceries to 30 families.

“I wanted to do a more hands-on thing to be considerate of the people who, even if they get the money, they have to take the bus and then bring all these groceries on the bus,” Kamil told USA Today. “It’s about the importance of understanding communal living. We should all be able to resource and depend on each other.”

We can’t think of a better expression of the Christmas and holiday spirit. But it’s a reminder, as well, of the great and growing wealth inequality in our country, made worse by the pandemic, that makes such charitable giving so necessary.

In a more equitable — while even strongly capitalist — society, there would be so much less need to begin with.

When donating the $4.2 billion, Scott, a novelist who divorced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2019, gave particular attention to nonprofit groups operating in communities facing high food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity and high poverty rates.

Among the bigger recipients in the Chicago area were the YMCA of Metro Chicago, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, the Chicago Community Loan Fund, the Community Investment Corporation and United Way of Metro Chicago.

United Way received $25 million from Scott, the single largest donation in the organization’s history. It will allow the organization to accelerate the work it is doing with community-based partners in Chicago neighborhoods such as Austin, Bronzeville, Auburn Gresham and South Chicago.

“Each of these communities have an amazing vision and plan for what they want to see happen,” Sean Garrett, United Way’s local president and CEO, told the Sun-Times. “And this donation allows us to help work in partnership with them and bring it to life.”

One of the great tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it has made poor people poorer even as the rich have grown even richer. It’s a growing disparity that has not gone unnoticed by Scott herself, the third richest woman in the world. Her net worth in the first eight months of the pandemic grew to $65.7 billion from $36 billion.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote on a blog entry. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth increased to $101.2 billion from $54.7 billion in those eight months. Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s net worth increased to $92.8 billion from $24.6 billion. Jeff Bezos’ fortune went to $203.1 billion from $113 billion.

But the great power of young Alycia Kamil’s story is that it reminds us we don’t have to be super-rich or super-privileged to make a difference. And we don’t have to wait on others. Kamil, who grew up in Oak Park, has been an activist since high school.

A couple of good hearts and some spare change from people willing to help was what brought food to those 30 families in March.

In the Christmas story, three kings came bearing gifts. But it was the child born to nothing who changed the world.

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