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The List: Top Private Donations Made Toward NJ's Hurricane Sandy Recovery

Though dwarfed by federal aid, nonprofit grants and donations have played a vital role

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According to a recent report by the Foundation Center in cooperation with Philanthropy New York and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, nearly 600 foundations, private corporations, and institutional donors have so far committed in excess of $380 million in both direct aid and in-kind donations to charities and relief groups working on the Sandy relief effort. It seems like small potatoes compared with the $60 billion in aid from the federal government and $19 billion paid by insurance companies, but it’s still significant, since this funding has helped fill gaps that aid from those other sources has failed to cover.

On top of the philanthropic support, social-services organizations like the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity have also been instrumental, spending the money they've received from foundations -- along with donations they've raised on their own -- to help rebuild the coast and assist residents in both the short- and long-term recovery.

Here’s a list of some of the largest players in the game:

Philanthropic Supporters of NJ’s Sandy Recovery

1. Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund

This fund, chaired by First Lady Mary Pat Christie, has awarded more than $37 million to over 100 organizations throughout the state since the storm. The largest chunk of the funding -- some $18.5 million -- has gone to groups like NJ Community Capital and Habitat for Humanity to address post-storm housing needs. Smaller amounts were also distributed to county-based long-term recovery groups, to various organizations providing mental-health and social services, as loans to small businesses, for financial and legal counseling, and to public schools to repair technology damaged by Sandy.

2. Robin Hood Relief Fund

After Sandy, the Robin Hood Foundation -- a New York-based antipoverty organization -- raised tens of millions of dollars with its star-studded, nationally televised "12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief" telethon. In total, the group received close to $75 million in donations, of which $32.7 million has been given to organizations in the Garden State. The majority of the funding was regranted to organizations providing housing and rental assistance/repairs,as well as to groups offering legal- and benefits-counseling to help storm survivors apply for aid and navigate the recovery process.

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

New Jersey's largest private foundation has donated $7 million to help the state recover and rebuild. Some of that money was distributed to food banks and the Red Cross, and $1.5 million went to repair damaged youth organizations around the state. Funding also went to various groups working to address the long-term mental-health impacts of the storm on Sandy survivors. (Full disclosure: RWJF is a funder of NJ Spotlight’s health coverage.)

4. NJ Recovery Fund

Hosted by the Community Foundation of New Jersey, with a lead gift from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the New Jersey Recovery Fund has awarded close to 90 grants totaling more than $4 million to groups working to address the Sandy recovery in several key areas: planning and environment, public information and engagement, community health, and the arts. Among the highlights, the grants funded a town hall meeting and several civic engagement events throughout the state, restoration of wildlife habitat along the Delaware Bayshore, and the hiring of recovery managers to assist several coastal communities with their long-term recovery (Full disclosure: the NJ Recovery Fund has funded NJ Spotlight’s Sandy coverage).

5. Hess Corporation Contributions Program

Immediately after the storm, the Hess Corp. donated $2.5 million as the first and one of the largest corporate donors to the Hurricane Sandy NJ Relief Fund. “John Hess is a New Jerseyan. He is someone who cares about this state,” Gov. Chris Christie said at the time, referring to the company’s CEO. On the one-year anniversary of the storm, Hess gave an additional $550,000, bringing its total donations to just over $3 million. John Hess currently serves as an honorary advisory board member of the Relief Fund, along with about a dozen other celebrities and community leaders.

Social Service Organizations Aiding NJ’s Sandy Recovery

While the Foundation Center has done a good job tracking corporate and institutional support in the aftermath of Sandy, the work of private charities and social service organizations has not been documented as closely. What follows is NJ Spotlight’s best effort to identify the key groups, but this list isn’t necessarily comprehensive. Feel free to note in the comments below if we left anyone out.

1. American Red Cross

The Foundation Center reports that the national American Red Cross and its local affiliates received nearly a quarter of all contributions, more than any other single organization. A spokeswoman says the Red Cross has spent at least $26 million in New Jersey, though the total figure is actually more than that, since this does not include money the organization has distributed to other groups whose work was not limited to the Garden State. Out of the $26 million, the Red Cross has provided close to $10 million in housing assistance to more than 1,800 households across the state, $6.7 million in grant funding to support 13 long-term recovery groups working with storm-affected communities and $10 million to help launch the Gap Funding Initiative (see below).

The Red Cross has come under some criticism for its handling of the recovery effort after an investigation by NPR and Pro Publica said the organization diverted aid money for public-relations purposes. In addition, it was criticized for sometimes lacking adequate basic supplies like food, blankets, and batteries to distribute. The organization has vigorously disputed many of the charges.

2. NJ Community Capital

Over the past few years, NJ Community Capital, a nonprofit community development financial institution, has purchased the mortgages of hundreds of distressed properties around the state to prevent homeowners from going into foreclosure. After Sandy, it launched the ReStart the Shore initiative to help stabilize struggling communities in the nine counties most affected by the storm. Using $15 million from the American Red Cross and the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, the group also launched the Gap Funding Initiative, which offered grants of up to $30,000 to assist Sandy survivors who qualified for support from the state's Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) grant program, but were unable to access those funds because the costs of their repairs exceeded the maximum award allowed under RREM.

3. Salvation Army

As of October 31, the Salvation Army says it’s spent $5.8 million on the Sandy recovery in the state, out of a total of $12 million in funds raised in and allocated to New Jersey, plus nearly $1 million in in-kind donations. The money has been spent in a variety of ways, including rental assistance, major appliances, and furniture for storm victims, building cleanup and reconstruction supplies/expenses, payments to contractors, gift cards for Sandy survivors, meals, groceries, and transportation assistance.

4. United Way

To date, nearly $3.5 million from the United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund has been distributed to storm-affected areas of New Jersey. The funding has helped families and individuals make rent payments, move to safe locations, make home repairs, and replace damaged furnaces and other household necessities. The United Way has also distributed funding to nonprofit organizations serving Sandy victims to enhance their case-management capacity and purchase supplies for community-rebuilding and recovery efforts.

5. United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)

The international humanitarian relief organization run by the United Methodist Church made a $3 million grant to its New Jersey chapter after Sandy to create A Future With Hope, a foundation aimed at helping homeowners recover by providing case managers, construction supervisors and thousands of volunteers to assist with rebuilding the coast. UMCOR says it sheltered more than 5,000 people, provided 50,000 meals and mucked out nearly 2,000 homes in the aftermath of the storm.

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