As the two-year mark to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on the East Coast approaches, the charity launched by New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie in the days after the storm is gearing up to hand out its remaining money.
The Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund has so far awarded nearly 85 percent of the $40 million donated from more than 30,000 corporations and individuals, including $2.5 million from the fuel company Hess and a $1 million contribution from Jon Bon Jovi and his band.
“By the end of the second anniversary we’ll be able to hopefully announce where all the balance of what we raised goes,” Christie said at an event promoting a housing counseling center in Atlantic Highlands last month. “And by the way, we still have donations coming in, which is really nice.”
More than half of the nearly $33.8 million awarded so far to nonprofit groups throughout the state has been earmarked for housing assistance. The largest single grant of $5.2 million went to a program for homeowners to help them rebuild, according to a list of grants on the fund’s website.
New Jersey Community Capital is administering that program, which has also received $10 million from the American Red Cross. Residents participating in the state’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation, and Mitigation grant program may qualify for up to $20,000 to help them cover rebuilding costs.
More than 300 homeowners have been approved for funding so far, according to Peter Grof, the deputy to the president at New Jersey Community Capital. He said they expect to help between 500 and 600 families in all.
Eileen Lofrese, a spokeswoman for the relief fund, said the group will open its fifth — and likely final — grant cycle in early September. Lofrese said the fund has been able to fine-tune its approach by meeting with its partners and talking about what’s happening on the ground to determine the best ways to move forward.
She said the fund will not be accepting applications for economic development or financial and legal counseling in this round of funding.
Instead, it will focus on housing, social services and mental health support.
“Housing assistance has been, and continues to be, the greatest need across the hardest-hit counties,” she said.
Among the organizations that have received the largest amount of funding from the group so far are the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group and Coastal Habitat for Humanity.
Maureen Mulligan, the executive director of Coastal Habitat for Humanity, said the more than $1 million her group received from the fund has supported rebuilding efforts in Neptune and Manasquan and helped pay for the renovation of a volunteer housing facility.
Mulligan said funneling the money through nonprofit groups, rather than directly to residents, serves as a buffer for overwhelmed disaster survivors.
“What happens when somebody loses everything and they don’t know where to turn, there’s a tendency if all of a sudden if you get a huge amount of money, you don’t spend it as wisely as you would under other conditions,” she said.
The relief fund has awarded millions of dollars to county-based long term recovery groups, including $1.75 million in Ocean County.
The fund initially faced criticism for not getting money out the door quickly enough, The organization handed out its first round of grants in February 2013 to county-based long term recovery groups.
Sue Marticek, the executive director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group, said that after any disaster needs change over time.
Marticek said she could push the money out the door quickly, but, she said, “I’m trying to spend money that’s actually going to turn into houses.”
Nina Stack, president of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, said when a disaster strikes a lot of money pours into a region from public and private resources. But after those resources have dried up, issues remain that philanthropy can help address.
“What we have learned and what best practice in disaster philanthropy is that it is about looking at the long-term,” she said.
The relief fund has also targeted its grant awards to legal and financial counseling, mental and emotional health support, social services, education and economic development.
A $4.5 million donation to the fund from the United Arab Emirates Embassy went toward upgrading digital technology in 30 public schools located in districts impacted by Sandy.
The fund also provided $600,000 to Operation Hope Inc. to provide financial counseling. More than $590,000 was awarded to Legal Services of New Jersey to provide legal assistance and representation for storm victims and nearly $930,000 to UCEDC, a Cranford-based economic development group for its projects.
Correction: Due to an editing error, this story mistakenly said 85 percent of the $40 million dollars in the Hurricane New Jersey Sandy Relief Fund had been donated to 30,000 corporations and individuals. The money was donated by them.
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on August 18, 2014 at 6:35 AM, updated August 18, 2014 at 9: