GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids is handing out money to projects aimed at supporting COVID-19 recovery or racial equity and improving the overall quality of life in neighborhoods.
Anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 in matching grants is available through the city’s Neighborhood Match Fund. The initiative will help jump-start new programs and keep existing programs moving forward.
The Black Book Exchange Box is one such program.
“Black Book Exchange Box is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to highlight Black culture, Black stories, Black authors,” said Aarie Wade, who organizes the program in Grand Rapids.
They are the stories often missing from history lessons.
“The Black story is valuable and rich and just extraordinary, so it’s important that people have access to these stories,” Wade said.
It’s a simple process of read, return, repeat. Books are placed in the box. Readers can just reach in, grab a book, take it home and bring it back when they’re done.
BBEB started out with six boxes in the 49506 and 45907 neighborhoods.
The organization is a two-year recipient of the City of Grand Rapids Neighborhood Match Fund Grant.
“In 2021, we’re expanding to the Latinx community. They granted us a $10,000 match to build 15 houses and put them throughout the city,” Wade said.
The Neighborhood Match Fund program, which is now taking applications, allows groups like BBEB to match city grants dollar for dollar through a combination of volunteer labor, in-kind goods and services and cash donations. Applicants have to be Grand Rapids residents or groups like block clubs or community-based organizations.
About half a dozen groups have benefited from the fund since 2019.
“We probably wouldn’t have been able to be so successful without them,” Wade said. “Not a lot of people know about it and out city can sometimes be a little detached from the communities that they really want to effect. So it’s important that we continue to talk about it.”
That perceived detachment isn’t lost on leaders at City Hall as they prepare to spend $2 million dollars in American Rescue Act funds.
The city has designed a participatory budgeting process for spending the federal COVID-19 relief dollars. Put simply, citizen steering committees in each ward will plan how the rest of the public will suggest and discuss ideas, set priorities and make sure the ideas are feasible before the commission votes on the spending plans later this year.
“Because we don’t necessarily live there or work there,” Assistant Grand Rapids City Manager Doug Matthews explained. “So this is an open forum. All ideas are welcome.”
The mayor and city commissioners will appoint members of the steering committee this month.
Of the $2 million American Rescue Plan funds available, $1 million will go to the 3rd Ward, $600,000 to the 1st Ward and $400,000 to the 2nd Ward. City leaders looked at the unique issues in each ward in deciding how to divvy up the cash.
“Both presently in terms of social and economic factors, but also, historically in terms of social and economic factors,” Matthews said.
The money can be spent on one-time infrastructure projects like sidewalks and parks, and social improvements projects, like violence reduction efforts.
Matthews hopes something else comes out of the participatory budgeting approach.
“It’s also kind of an education on what things cost to do and some of the struggles that we have when we put a city budget together every year,” Matthews said.