More than a month after looting at businesses along Fordham Road, locals are asking questions of the organizers of a GoFundMe that raised nearly $50,000 to help the community.
As of July 9, none of the $47,477 that Amin Razzaque and his new nonprofit Bronx United collected from 1,800 donors online had been distributed.
And behind the scenes, founding members of the group have been feuding about how to dole out the cash, the Fordham Observer reported Wednesday — with one saying he’d been “bamboozled.”
I have been bamboozled. I take all accountability for the actions that I made before I knew what Amin’s vision was. I still want to do good by the community and I still have the supplies donated by the people that day. These can be used to clean or to be donated! DM me for info.— lil kindness (@HellaKev) July 1, 2020
“This is our home,” organizers said in a statement to donors last week. “Please be patient as we gather more information about businesses that need our help the most.”
Razzaque and his associates opted not to place the funds in a personal bank account before distributing them, they said in the July 2 note. Instead, the group created a bank account connected to Bronx United, which registered as a nonprofit with the state in mid-June, records show.
In the weeks since, retail stores in the city, including some affected by the June 1 unrest, have reopened. Still, as many struggle to recover, community members have pressed Razzaque and his associates for more information on how — or if — the funds will be distributed.
“I don’t think the money is going to go anywhere beneficial, ‘cause it hasn’t at this point,” said Reynaldo Jefferson, 30, who lives nearby and asked Bronx United about the donations in a series of tweets.
Razzaque and Bronx United did not respond to multiple requests for comment from THE CITY.
“For total transparency the money has not been touched,” Razzaque, who was named “New Yorker of the Week” by NY1 for organizing his Fordham recovery effort, said in a June 27 tweet. “This has been a process I did not expect but tried my best to manage from it.”
‘It’s Just Sitting There’
Some donors told THE CITY they had to dispute the charges with their banks after requests for refunds were allegedly ignored.
“They got a lot of money and now it’s just sitting there,” a donor, who requested a refund, and anonymity, told THE CITY. “Right now, across all 50 states and the climate of the world, money like that can’t really sit in a GoFundMe, especially when people donated their own hard-earned dollars.”
In a statement on its GoFundMe page, Bronx United said it had identified eight businesses and three charities to contribute to, and that it was teaming with the Fordham Road Business Improvement District. The BID did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Some of the businesses on the Bronx United list, like Cross Way Driving School on Fordham Road and a nearby MetroPCS store, were open this week, THE CITY found. Doors at others, like Sneaker Plaza and Gold Cash, a pawn shop, were still closed.
In the weeks since the looting, Gold Cash raised more than $109,000 in a separate GoFundMe bid for repairs and expenses resulting from the vandalism.
‘We Just Want Our Refunds’
Owners of some of the businesses Bronx United says it plans to help believe the funds will come.
“They look legit,” Michelle Asencio, owner of Asencio Pharmacy on East 174th Street, told THE CITY. “They look like they really care. I don’t think people will get their hands dirty for $50,000 — at least I hope they wouldn’t.”
Looters destroyed a widow at her family pharmacy in early June, when surveillance video showed groups of young men streaming into the storefront. The glass hasn’t been replaced.
Asencio said she believes the organizers may need more time to coordinate distribution and volunteers, particularly given the ongoing pandemic.
With the money still in the online account, though, others in the community are less convinced.
“Refund everyone who has said — over and over again — ‘We just want our refunds,’ Jefferson said. “What it was for was to clean up Fordham. Fordham is now cleaned up. A lot of those stores are already now in business.”
“At this point, why not just refund the money and wash your hands of it?” he added.