As we empty out our closets, buy up supplies of flashlights and diapers and pitch in to remove debris, there’s the lingering question of where to donate money for Sandy relief efforts. Charity is personal, and where to give depends on what you hope to achieve with your financial contribution.
When donating to a charity, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Is it sound financially? Does it have good governance? Is it transparent about how it distributes dollars raised? And can it demonstrate the impact of those dollars on the community it serves? Most of these answers can be found on the charity’s website, which should include its recent audited financial statements (unless the organization is brand-new). Sites like Charity Navigator (free), Guidestar (for a fee) and the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Search or New York Charity Guide can help answer the above questions for larger, well established charities (and in some cases you can even see how much their top executives earn).
Consider donating to a few different kinds of charities. Neighborhood nonprofits can give you the immediate satisfaction of knowing you are helping someone directly and locally, while national or large New York City nonprofits have the benefit of decades of experience, strong public-private partnerships, and the manpower to raise and distribute millions.
Also, try to divvy up your donation between immediate and long-term recovery. Immediate needs are somewhat self-evident: food, clothing, shelter, medical care and cash assistance to help cover the shortfall from lost hourly wages. Long-term recovery is more complicated and will cover the gamut from housing to jobs to mental health services.
It’s unclear how long recovery from Sandy will take. Many 9/11 relief funds were in operation for several years following the attacks, and few who look at New Orleans consider it fully recovered from Katrina. No matter how you choose to give or whom you choose to give to, the cliché holds true–recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Your time, money and elbow grease will be needed for a long time to come.
The following list includes local nonprofits focused solely on New York City and several big charities with relief funds that span the Northeast. All give 100% of your donations to relief efforts and organizations unless otherwise noted. It’s by no means exhaustive and being included is not an endorsement of the charity or its work.
Brooklyn Recovery Fund This is the granddaddy of the local funds, administered by the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the only public foundation focused on Brooklyn alone. They’ve raised over $1.5 million so far, and are spreading the money among smaller nonprofits that apply for grants. The vetting process involves approval from the fund’s founding partners, lead supporters and a community advisory committee, but they’ve been quick to dole out assistance. So far, $275,000 in “Emergency Fast Track Grants” have been distributed to 27 nonprofit organizations such as Congregation Beth Elohim, which was granted $5,000 to prepare food for families in Coney Island. Various groups in Red Hook, including Added Value, ReStore Red Hook and the Red Hook Initiative, have received a total of $80,000. The full list of grants to date is here. They plan to continue the fund for at least 18 months to address immediate, mid-, and long-term needs, so long as contributions continue. They’ve also made it supremely easy to donate–to give $10, text “brooklyn” to 25383.
Coney Recovers At the moment, Coney Recovers, a fund administered by the Alliance for Coney Island, is collecting funds to help in the recovery and reconstruction of hundreds of homes, not-for-profit organizations, public spaces, and small businesses in Coney Island– approximately 1,000 of which were affected by Hurricane Sandy. They’ve raised $50,000 to date and will begin dispersing them shortly.
Graybeards The Graybeards, based in the Rockaways, began as a group of 35-and-up basketball players who turned into benevolent society after 9/11 and the Belle Harbor plane crash. They became a non-profit to collect and distribute cash assistance and manpower to the community, and now they are distributing Sandy relief donations on an as needed most basis–be it gift cards to Home Depot to cash for those who lost their homes. They’re including residents of Breezy Point and Broad Channel in their efforts and are halfway to their goal of reaching $500,000 in the next month.
Lava Girl Surf/Rockaway Beach Surf Club The Rockaway Beach Surf Club is a crucial distribution center for supplies and food, as well as an organizational hub for Rockaways residents seeking help with all manner of hurricane clean-up. All donations are tax deductible and you can click here to donate or do it via PayPal, by sending payment to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Hospitality This interfaith, 30-year-old charity on Staten Island provides food, shelter and health care for those who need it most, and they have created a dedicated Sandy relief fund together with the Staten Island Advance and St. George’s Theater, in cooperation with the Staten Island Borough President. They’ve raised $200,000 to date on behalf of Staten Island families in need, and the process of distribution will begin soon.
ReStore Red Hook This consortia of 31 small business owners are collectively climbing out from the mountains of debt and damage Sandy caused, and which FEMA and insurance cannot alleviate. Their fiscal sponsor is a non-profit, so all donations are tax-deductible, and the fund is administered by a grants committee comprised of lawyers, fundraisers, residents and business owners (though not of any business seeking aid). Their goal is to raise $2 million to cover the estimated $50,000 in damages each business suffered, and they have raised roughly $200,000 to date. The first disbursement of funds is slated for next week.
Red Hook Initiative Red Hook Initiative, which was a major boots-on-the-ground, emergency relief force in Red Hook, is directing donations toward its main focus–youth and community development–though helping Sandy victims is still a major part of its work. RHI has partnered with lawyers who are assisting people with FEMA applications, and is developing a blog for its youth members to record the post-Sandy experiences of Red Hook Houses’ residents. More post-Sandy programming will be introduced at least until January, and you can request that your donation is directed entirely to relief efforts; call to inquire first.
New York City, General Relief
FEGS FEGS operates across the five boroughs and on Long Island serving some of the area’s most vulnerable populations. They have been providing much needed disaster recovery assistance, such as emergency financial aid, food, housing, clothing, transportation, employment support and mental health counseling.
Mayors Fund to Advance NYC The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City facilitates innovative public-private partnerships throughout New York City’s five boroughs. It has provided needed supplies, such as water, diapers, baby formula, batteries, toiletries, towels, and gloves to New Yorkers via distribution centers across the city. It will also be involved in long-term relief and restoration efforts.
Occupy Sandy Occupy Wall Street is using its experience as a grassroots movement to organize aid to those in the hardest-hit areas. They have set up neighborhood distribution centers and are coordinating relief efforts and volunteers to provide needed resources through in-kind donations. Monetary donations go into the Occupy Sandy Relief NYC Fund, which as of Nov. 26 has raised $567,020.37. From that, they will distribute money to three different funds, with different focuses. The Emergency Relief Fund, which distributes money to point people at relief sites; The Recovery Projects Fund, which provides support to initiatives that help communities recover from Sandy; and The Participatory Budget Fund, which will be distributed to affected communities and allocated through a “participatory budgeting” process. We reached out to Occupy Sandy by phone and over email to find out more about the distribution of money to these funds and the participatory budgeting process but were not able to connect with someone who could answer our questions by the time of publication–check back for more details.
Robin Hood Robin Hood has reactivated its relief fund, which was originally implemented to respond to the needs of 9/11. They will be helping those in need through housing, food, basic emergency items and cash assistance, and addressing issues like the exponential rise in homelessness following the storm and lost wages for low-income New Yorkers who live paycheck to paycheck. Lee Ainslie, chair of Robin Hood’s board of directors, recently spoke on Bloomberg about their efforts.
City Harvest and Food Bank for New York City both provide emergency food assistance to community-based organizations, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, helping to serve millions of meals a year to people who would otherwise go hungry. Both are working overtime to get food to the affected areas in addition to their regular work. Across the city, those living in poverty will also need extra assistance through this crisis as hourly wages were lost due to missed work and children could not rely on free school lunches while schools were closed. Note that the Food Bank has a separate emergency Sandy fund, and you can request that your City Harvest donation be used exclusively for Sandy relief efforts.
Eastern Seaboard General Relief
Red Cross Money donated to the Red Cross goes to providing immediate disaster relief through evacuation shelters, meals, and direct cash assistance to enable families to address basic needs, like purchasing diapers and groceries. After emergency response, they will focus on longer-term needs like mental and physical health and case management, which helps connect people with financial benefits and other services.
Salvation Army The Salvation Army is providing disaster relief through food, shelter, supplies and emotional and spiritual care. This includes serving first responders and those displaced from their homes at 16 shelters across New Jersey and acting as the lead agency for New York City’s Food Access Plan, coordinating the distribution of food and water to 17 sites across Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Note, however, that they elect not to disclose their financial information, and are widely considered to be anti-gay.
United Way Through its network of local United Ways, the United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund will be addressing the near and long-term recovery needs of communities across the Eastern Seaboard. Money will be directed towards unmet needs and community-based groups in the most affected areas, helping rebuilding lives and social infrastructure through long-term housing, health-care, mental health and connecting people with financial benefits. Sheena Wright, their new CEO, spoke about the United Way’s efforts on Thirteen’s MetroFocus.
Architecture for Humanity Architecture for Humanity has a designated Hurricane Sandy Reconstruction Fund to provide design and construction services to help New York and New Jersey rebuild from this disaster with a focus on underserved communities. Local chapters will provide technical assistance to existing recovery agencies and to property owners with a focus on businesses and rental properties in low-income communities; design and construction services to nonprofits and community-based organizations; community design, planning and architectural support to local agencies to rebuild and to develop model mitigation strategies, especially along the New Jersey shore; and will help communities build back green, providing assistance to replace outdated building systems with more sustainable energy-efficient solutions. Note, a portion of donations cover administrative costs and fund-raising.
Habitat for Humanity In the near term, Habitat for Humanity is focused on helping homeowners and communities with repairs and clean-up efforts. In the long term, they will build or rehabilitate affordable housing in partnership with low-income families. They also have a designated Disaster Recovery Fund and the only disaster they’re focusing on at the moment is Sandy. Note that Habitat keeps 10% of donations to pay for administrative costs.
Direct Relief International Direct Relief International is getting needed help and medical supplies to nonprofit health organizations and facilities that provide essential services to the most vulnerable populations, including assisting people who fled their homes without the medication needed to manage chronic conditions.
Doctors Without Borders In its first operation in the U.S., Doctors Without Borders is providing medical and psychological care in shelters and neighborhoods across New York City and New Jersey. They have been treating the elderly, homeless and mentally and physically impaired, including going door-to-door to check on the homebound. You can read more about their work in Outside Magazine. Note roughly 15% of your donations cover administrative and fund-raising costs.
While this list only includes funds helping people recover, keep in mind that there are also groups rebuilding our ravaged parks (City Parks Foundation, Prospect Park Alliance) and providing our four-legged friends displaced by the storm with the care and homes they need (ASPCA, The Humane Society, Sean Casey Animal Rescue).