Unitarian Universalist Congregation Awards HICO Grants To Underserved Local Organizations

Michael Daly, President of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork with Tela Troge, Shinnecock Nation COVID-19 Administrator and Sara Topping, Executive Director of the East End Birth Network. DANA SHAW

When the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork established a new grant program with a $100,000 bequest from one of its longtime members, the assumption was that it would last four to five years.

Instead, more than a dozen applications poured in, totaling $330,100 in requested funding — which not only represented a sign of the current times, but further confirmed the deep inequities that exist on the East End.

And it made Michael Daly, president of the UUCSF board of trustees, reevaluate the entire program.

“We’re proud to be doing what we’re doing, but we see that the need is so much greater than even we anticipated,” he said. “We, honestly, did not expect to get 15 applications totaling $330,000 in our first go-around.”

To extend the life of the donation — a gift left to the congregation by the late Paul Berman — the proposal assessment committee awarded High Impact Community Outreach, or HICO, grants to seven local organizations, each ranging from $5,000 to $7,000 for a total outlay of $41,175, spanning the Butterfly Effect Project’s community garden in Riverhead to East Hampton Meals on Wheels to providing bilingual mental health services to Latinx youth through OLA of Eastern Long Island.

“We wanted to promote social, economic, environmental and racial justice,” Mr. Daly said. “Part of our mission as Unitarian Universalists is to enhance the wellbeing of all people and to engage in equitable and community-oriented projects, to address longstanding challenges and to just have impact in our local community. Shelter Island, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southampton, Southold and the Shinnecock Nation are all part of our community.”

When Tela Troge heard about the HICO grant program, there was no question that the Shinnecock Nation would apply, she explained. Working as the tribe’s COVID-19 relief administrator, she noticed that the pandemic had only exacerbated existing issues on the territory, and they needed help.

“We basically had this problem where we wanted to social distance, but we also wanted to stay involved,” she said. “We’re a very close tribal family, so one of the ways that we thought we could all keep connected was virtually. The problem is, like a lot of other Indian nations, we lack access to technology and internet and WiFi at a much higher rate than the normal population.”

At a time when online connectivity is more important than ever, the grant awarded to the Shinnecock Nation will aid in the purchase of computers, modems, Wi-Fi access and technical assistance for selected elders, reducing the isolation of a vulnerable group and ensuring they can remain connected with tribal activities, local government, faith communities, telemedicine and social welfare assistance programs.

“I’m super excited. It’s brought a new horizon of funding opportunities,” Ms. Troge said. “There’s no shortage of projects and ideas on the Shinnecock Nation, so connecting with funders who can share our vision and make it a reality has really just been incredible to be a part of.”

Two additional HICO grants will also benefit the Shinnecock Nation — one from the East End Food Institute, which aims to provide 25 families with five pounds of frozen packaged food per week, for 10 weeks. They are working in conjunction with the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge, whose grant will fund dire housing repairs for elders.

It will start with stabilizing and pumping overworked cesspools, and move into providing materials and labor for the most pressing housing needs, which include mold, poor insulation and persistent leaks. All the while, the coronavirus pandemic has also left many of the Shinnecock Nation’s essential workers without affordable housing.

“I have seen a real growth in the number of allies that have stepped up to support the Shinnecock people, including the recent passing of graves protection legislation by the Town of Southampton,” Mr. Daly said. “I think it’s because those of us who have lived somewhat entitled lives can’t even perceive the challenges that those who have been marginalized for years and generations experience.”

The East End Birth Network understands this reality all too well, according to Sara Faraone Topping, co-founder and executive director of the local nonprofit, which also received a HICO grant. In the Hamptons, perhaps shockingly, infant mortality rates are some of the highest in New York State, she said, reflective of a profit-driven healthcare system, systemic prejudices and a scarcity of services.

“We’ve been talking the high level of maternal and infant mortality rates for Black mothers and indigenous mothers for awhile, but a lot of people didn’t really want to hear it,” she explained. “It’s a hard thing to hear, it’s a hard thing to listen to, and it’s a hard thing to change. We’re just hoping to do, little by little, what we can. Because in the end, it’s a bigger problem than really one small group on the East End can fix, but we’re just hoping to do as much as we can, while we’re here, with what we have.”

To address the disconnect between access to care and health, the East End Birth Network will start a mobile, pop-up parent and baby pantry that mirrors a food pantry model, stocked with donated baby and maternity items for underserved prospective and new parents as they transition through the vulnerable stages of pregnancy, birth, postpartum and early childhood.

“Bundles” for parents will include educational materials and small comfort items to assist through the various stages of becoming a new parent, bringing resources to minority groups that are disproportionately affected and most at risk.

“We have local year-round community here that consists of the Shinnecock Nation, we have a historic Black community, we have a high immigrant population, and all of those people are at higher risk for maternal and infant mortality rates,” Ms. Topping said, “and so we figured that that would be the best way to serve and uplift those communities in a way they potentially aren’t being served or uplifted currently.”

The UUCSF shares the same goal, Mr. Daly said, though he sees the grant program as “a double-edged sword.” While it is an honor to serve, he sad, it is heartbreaking to see the need on the East End that the organization is not yet meeting.

“My hope is that this little $100,000 program can become much bigger, so that we can address the vast needs that are out there on the East End of Long Island,” Mr. Daly said. “I believe we can do that because we are a community organization that reflects today’s values with our mission and our vision.

“We are a spiritual community, but we act against exclusion, oppression and violence,” he continued. “We nurture the health of the earth. We strive for peace in our hearts. We’re a church of today’s growing values, and with that, we’re gonna strive to figure out how to include more people and to raise more funds so that we can serve more of the needs that are out there.”

For more information about the High Impact Community Outreach program, visit uucsf.org/hico-overview.