October 31, 2014
October 29 marked the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. While for some the devastating storm is nothing but a bad memory, for too many in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Sandy remains present every day as they struggle to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Over the last two years, the Robin Hood Foundation’s Sandy Relief Fund has tried to do what it could to aid those in the tri-state area affected by the storm. With the help of many generous donors, we have provided more than $74 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and have helped tens of thousands of families.
While Robin Hood is not a traditional disaster-relief organization, we were prepared to help after Sandy made landfall. Thanks to our twenty-five years of experience as New York's largest poverty-fighting organization and our expertise in providing assistance to the families of victims of the September 11 attacks, we knew that many of the frontline, grassroots organizations that assist New Yorkers every day could benefit from our help. We made our first grants within three days of the storm to organizations already in the Robin Hood network. Ever since, we've been allocating funds for Sandy recovery efforts within a hundred days of receiving donations for that purpose. Two years after Sandy, we have made more than five hundred and fifty grants to over four hundred organizations in New York City, New Jersey, Long Island, and parts of Connecticut.
Along the way, we have learned many lessons about grantmaking, partnerships, and the nature of disaster relief. Two of the most important lessons have to do with the importance of being flexible and being transparent. Because we had "boots on the ground," we quickly got to know communities we hadn’t worked with before and were able to adapt to their post-storm needs. In terms of transparency, we made all our grants public on our website, including the name of the recipient organization and the amount and purpose of the grant, and located all those grants on an interactive map.
Two years on, the question we are asked most frequently is: What compelled Robin Hood to allocate funds so quickly? There are three reasons:
1. Immediate need. Many people who found themselves in the storm's path quickly realized they were in urgent need of essentials. In many cases, they had lost their home, or had no heat, hot water, or electricity. Their place of work had been damaged or destroyed, or their child’s day care was shuttered. They began to run out of food and, if they were poor or disabled, could not access their benefits. They were traumatized. It is no accident we called our fund a "relief" fund. Our efforts were about providing assistance in the short term, not about preparing for the next disaster. Moreover, when we had engaged in post-disaster relief efforts before, we had made a point of focusing on the specific conditions of the disaster. In the days after Sandy hit, it was clear to us the situation required getting funds out to frontline organizations quickly.