Since the coronavirus pandemic began, charitable organizations across the East End have been in overdrive, corralling all their resources to meet the needs of an ever-growing number of people facing unprecedented challenges. More than half of American adults have now had at least one vaccine dose, and COVID cases are trending downward locally, but the damage the virus has wrought for the past 14 months, particularly in the lives of children, has yet to abate.
After more than a year of trying to do more than ever with limited resources, seven area charities realized they’d be stronger and more effective if they joined forces.
That’s how the East End Fund For Children was born.
The fund is a coalition of seven organizations that focus either exclusively or in large part on improving lives and outcomes for children in need, and by joining together they have pledged to fundraise jointly and engage in collaborative programming. The coalition includes The Retreat, which provides shelter and support for victims of domestic violence; the Bridgehampton Child Care Center, which provides care, education and enrichment programs for children of all ages; the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, an early childhood education center; i-tri, a program for adolescent and teen girls that provides empowerment through triathlon training; the Southampton Youth Association, which provides recreational services during out-of-school time; Project Most, an after-school and learning program based in East Hampton; and the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE), the Bridgehampton-based children’s museum and play center that also provides programming and community outreach.
CMEE will serve as the overseeing organization for the coalition, which will equally distribute fundraising money to the seven nonprofits involved. CMEE Executive Director Steve Long explained the thought process behind creating the coalition. He said that at the same time the museum was hearing from families that they were experiencing food insecurity and had other pressing needs, CMEE was experiencing a net loss of $25,000 per week in revenue because they were unable to remain open or conduct in-person fundraising events.
“We needed to develop new and innovative strategies for raising the funds necessary to maintain our operations and help struggling families cope with the crisis,” he said.
Mr. Long said he and other stakeholders trying to address the problem took inspiration from a similar initiative, the Fund for 631, started by Jessica Seinfeld, which raised money for six different organizations addressing food insecurity in the area.
“The ‘pooled fund’ effort was such an incredible success — in raising money as well as encouraging the organizations to share resources — that several of us wanted to develop a similar initiative specifically to address the needs of vulnerable children in our community,” Mr. Long said. “Especially since our seven organizations can’t yet host our regular fundraising events, the coalition provides a vehicle for raising awareness about our individual institutions and the work we are doing collectively. By making a gift to the Fund for Children, donors are helping seven organizations, not just one, provide a lifeline to over 3,500 children and caregivers at a time when they need it most.”
And that need is certainly there, according to the directors of the organizations involved. They’ve been facing enormous challenges on multiple fronts trying to meet the needs of the people and families they serve, and in recent months, they’ve been battling something new: a sort of giving fatigue, and a general lack of awareness that the needs in the community, and especially for children, remain great even as vaccinations have ramped up and there is a generally upbeat outlook about the summer and the waning persistence of the virus. In early April, CMEE surveyed families that use the CMEE food pantry, to assess how they were doing, and responses from 60 families indicated that underemployment is “rampant,” 65 percent of respondents said they could not pay their rent on time, and 75 percent said they are forced to choose between paying their rent or buying food. Not surprisingly, feelings of persistent anxiety and sadness were reported as well, in both adults and children living in homes facing those issues.
Andrea Narty, executive director of the SYA, is excited about the impact the coalition can have.
“The pandemic brought so much hardship to the families that we all serve, so banding together to support them really helps everyone,” she said. “In addition to any of our individual efforts, we can have a greater impact as a group and definitely a greater reach.”
She added that the creation of the fund will streamline the process of helping people in need and make each organization more effective.
“Through our discussions, it was clear that two of our organizations were supporting the same family,” she said. “There is opportunity here to say, ‘What are we doing? Is it working? What’s next?’”
Loretta K. Davis is the executive director of The Retreat, an organization that serves an extraordinarily important mission in the community in normal times, and was even more crucial during the pandemic, which created a “perfect storm,” Ms. Davis said, for allowing perpetrators of domestic violence to exert control.
“Home was not a safe place for individuals living with an abuser during the pandemic,” she said. “During COVID, there was no outside contact for victims. They could not go to work and see colleagues, they could be prevented from seeing family and friends because of COVID. No one could come and check on them. Kids were not in school, so there was very little mandatory reporting of child abuse.”
Ms. Davis added that many children were either victims of abuse or witnessed it, and dealing with the mental and physical fallout of both is a big challenge.
Before the coalition was created, the heads of the organizations involved would frequently coordinate with each other to help certain families or address certain issues, and relying on each other for support became even more important during the pandemic, Ms. Davis said.
“If COVID taught us anything, it’s that collaboration and connection can overcome the impact of this disease,” Ms. Davis said. “We are stronger together. We support each other. The community, and the children, benefit when we collectively unite to share resources and services.”
Ms. Davis said that the coalition has already made it easier for families served by The Retreat to access the services of the other agencies, and she said there have been other immediate benefits as well.
“We are sharing job postings, news of grants, donations, new programs,” she said. “The door has been opened ever wider for the sharing of our resources.”
Rebecca Morgan Taylor, the executive director of Project Most, agreed.
Project Most faced funding challenges when its New York State grant was delayed, and it could not enroll as many students as usual because the Springs School was not able to accommodate the program during the pandemic. The creation of the fund means that help is there when an organization is facing those kinds of challenges.
“This partnership has given us all a platform to get to know each other better, get to know what the other organizations are doing, and help bring awareness to the challenges families are having,” Ms. Morgan Taylor said, adding that the creation of the fund is also appealing to would-be donors. “Fundraising together gives philanthropists the opportunity to make change across the East End.”
Having witnessed first hand just how devastating the pandemic has been for children, particularly adolescents and teens, i-tri founder and Chief Visionary Officer Theresa Roden is excited about the positive impact the fund will have.
“No one organization can address all of the different needs,” she said. “Together, we have the power to make a real difference in the lives of our youth.”
Ms. Cannon said she’s happy that the Bridgehampton Child Care Center is part of the coalition, and expressed her belief that while every organization involved has its own special “niche,” they are united in working toward the common goal of uplifting the community.
“Collaborations are always good,” she said. “When we all come together and have a main purpose, it’s always better with many versus one. We’re stronger that way.”