Community Fund for Sandy Recovery

"No one is here. Not city, state or federal agencies. Not the Red Cross. People are desperate and knocking on our doors," was a common refrain North Star Fund heard in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy from grantee leaders seeking basic information for poor, working class, immigrant, elderly, public housing, and disabled New Yorkers who were trapped in homes without power, water, or basic supplies. Within 24 hours, it was clear that the immediate response to the storm was being handled by community-based organizations at the neighborhood level.

North Star Fund established the Grassroots Hurricane Relief Fund to help the most vulnerable communities recover. Within 36 hours of the storm, North Star fund began fielding calls from grantee partners and determining a grantmaking strategy. In total, North Star Fund made 41 grants from November 12, 2012 to March 31, 2014 in the amount of $397,400 to 37 groups in New York City, New Jersey, and Long Island.

The fund then transitioned to become the Community Fund for Sandy Recovery to ensure that grassroots advocates from neglected communities have a say in how the $50 billion in federal aid and nearly $300 million in city dollars are spent to address the environmental and social justice issues that the hurricane brought to the fore.

These funds are unique in prioritizing organizations led by communities most affected by injustice. For example, in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, CAAAV, an organization working with low-income Asian immigrants and refugees, immediately set up an ad-hoc relief center offering critical resources--from phone charging services to diaper distribution--for hundreds of affected residents.

While most of Manhattan was back to normal within a week, 19,000 homes and small businesses in the Rockaways were still without power. Faith in New York, an interfaith, multicultural federation of Queens-based congregations working to improve public policies for low-income immigrants and communities of color, purchased generators to convert homes into community heating centers, and pumped water from flooded basements.

Strategically focusing on groups experiencing significant barriers to resources, North Star Fund made multiple grants to organizations working through the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. The Workers Justice Project in Brooklyn saw their trailer, which served as a vital hiring center, get washed out into New York Harbor.

After the storm, other funders have looked to North Star Fund for leadership. In January 2013, North Star Fund led a site visit and briefing with over 40 participants to Staten Island and Brooklyn. Attendees of the tour were representatives from large private foundations as well as individuals seeking first-hand knowledge of how to best allocate their resources in relief funding.

Then, in partnership with Atlantic Philanthropies, North Star Fund provided a $150,000 grant to the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding (AJR), a coalition of community organizing groups focused on finding ways to ensure that low-income communities--predominantly communities of color--receive fair allocation of the $50.5 billion federal recovery funds. AJR was instrumental in getting the new de Blasio administration to pay attention to post-Sandy issues, leading to a complete overhaul of the city’s Build it Back program in March, 2014. During that time, North Star Fund’s Executive Director, Hugh Hogan, co-authored an op-ed in City and State with AJR’s Nathalie Alegre.

With additional funds from the Overbrook Foundation and the Edith A. and Herbert L. Lehman Foundation, North Star Fund commissioned a report by researcher Lisa Cowan to analyze the community-led response to Sandy, recommend ways to improve collaboration between public and private groups, and better allocate federal and philanthropic dollars. The report, From the Edge of Disaster: How Activists and Insiders Can Use the Lessons of Hurricane Sandy to Make the City Safer, was officially released at a funder briefing in July, 2014, at The Rockefeller Foundation. On that same day, North Star Fund released a brochure about our Sandy-related grantmaking, entitled Back From Disaster: North Star Fund's Response to Sandy.

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