Nova Scotia

$11K raised to help black Nova Scotians during COVID-19 — but it's in limbo

The money is supposed to help people buy necessities like food and medication during COVID-19, but the money is in limbo and hasn't been distributed to those who need it. 

'We've just reached a breaking point,' says Saint Mary's prof

Rachel Zellars, an assistant professor of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary's University, helped start an online fundraiser in mid-March that raised $11,460. (Rachel Zellars)

More than $11,000 has been raised to help members of the black community in Nova Scotia buy necessities like food and medication during the COVID-19 outbreak, but the money is in limbo and hasn't been distributed to those who need it. 

Organizers of the fundraising campaign say GoFundMe is refusing to release the emergency funds despite weeks of emailing back and forth. 

A group of community organizers, activists, and scholars began raising money in the middle of March to provide emergency funds to people who've lost work or are struggling financially during the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund Nova Scotia would give applicants a one-time payment of $100 each.

About 250 people applied and most need the money urgently to cover "very, very simple material needs," organizer Rachel Zellars told CBC's Mainstreet on Thursday. 

The campaign had a goal of $10,000, and by this week had raised $11,460.

"This has been for me, for us, arguably one of the most frustrating periods of my life," said Zellars, an assistant professor at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

What's the hold up?

Zellars said she's done everything the company has asked in order to verify that the money will end up in the right hands. She said she contacted her bank and was told there should be no reason why the money can't be deposited into the account that was specifically set up for this purpose. 

GoFundMe initially told Zellars that withdrawals were on hold because the campaign needed to be managed by an organization, not an individual, and asked her to include more information on the page, to "ensure that your campaign page is as transparent as possible to your donors."

Zellars received this latest email from GoFundMe on Thursday. (Rachel Zellars)

Around March 23, Zellars said she "received a series of assurances" that they could access the money within two to three business days. But then in an email on Thursday, GoFundMe said the payment partner, WePay, still needed more information to verify the account.

So she sent a copy of her driver's licence and got a response saying she now needs to prove her connection to the organization on file. 

"We're on the fourth cycle of this today, and we've just reached a breaking point," Zellars said. 

GoFundMe responds

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for GoFundMe said it's working with Zellars to resolve the problem, and that funds are released "once all requested documents are verified from our team and there is a clear understanding of how funds are being distributed."

What's most frustrating, said Zellars, is that people need the money right now, but it can take days to just get a response from the company.

"That we're encountering so many roadblocks at a time when they are profiting off of the suffering that peoples are going through in various communities is just absolutely unacceptable," she said. 

With files from CBC's Mainstreet