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Charities Strike Back After Sandy’s Knockdown Punch

By Mark Hrywna - December 3, 2012

The challenges of any emergency response get more complicated when the responders, too, are impacted. Charities throughout the northeast were knocked out by the storm called Sandy but many found a way to still deliver services.

Relief efforts had raised almost $100 million for relief and recovery within one week, led by the American Red Cross (ARC) with some $85 million, including $23 million from a Friday night telethon for Sandy victims. The Salvation Army reported nearly $2 million online donations by Nov. 2. The ARC reported call volumes of twice the average to 1-800-RED-CROSS. United Way created the United Way Hurricane Sandy Recovery Fund, with contributions going to local United Ways along the Eastern seaboard. In less than a week, The Jewish Federations of North America Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund raised more than $245,000, including $190,000 online. The JFNA Emergency Committee authorized $250,000 disbursements to UJA-Federation of New York and 10 federations in New Jersey.

Other donations in support of various relief and recovery efforts included:

  • $2 million from JPMorgan Chase for emergency response and another $1 million to match employee donations to the ARC, World Vision and United Way, in addition to $2 million to local agencies;
  • $1.5 million from UPS, including $250,000 to the ARC, $250,000 in logistical aid for urgent response and an additional $1 million in cash and in-kind support to a variety of relief organizations throughout 2013;
  • $1 million from Kohl’s Department Stores;
  • $1 million, via dollar-for-dollar match up to $500,000 by the AARP Foundation;
  • The Gap pledged $750,000 in cash and at least $250,000 in clothing;
  • $1 million from the National Football League (NFL) and its players association;
  • $1 million from Major League Baseball (MLB) and its players association;
  • $1 million from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its players association;
  • $1 million from Wells Fargo, with a quarter of it going to the ARC; and,
  • $1 million from The Weather Channel and its principal owners.

For charities based in Lower Manhattan, the storm meant activating contingency plans to deal with the loss of power and incapacitated office space. Susan Houchin, director of administration for Girls Inc., is among 18 employees in the organization’s Indianapolis, Ind., office. About a dozen employees are based at 120 Wall St., in Manhattan, which was closed for a week after Sandy knocked out power to the Financial District, in addition to flooding the building’s basement.

The organization moved its finance and human resources operations to Indianapolis a couple of years ago but has been dispersed among more than one office for nearly 30 years. “That’s another reason why we’re not crippled at a time like this. We can still pay bills, get payroll done, because those operations are here in Indianapolis,” Houchin said.

When staff members left work the Friday before the storm, they were on alert, Houchin said. Girls Inc. announced fairly quickly that the New York office would be closed on the Monday just as the storm was hitting. With power out in much of Lower Manhattan and subways not running, Houchin said staff members worked from home after being accounted for, even though some were without power or heat.

“By and large, we’ve done pretty well. What’s prepared us for how we’ve managed in this situation, was Irene last year, and going back to Sept. 11, we were in a similar situation, in that the building was completely closed for a couple of weeks,” said Houchin. People had to work from home as best they could and the charity quickly switched its center of communications in Indianapolis, like it did last month.

The New York operations include a dozen staff in the executive office, development, and marketing and communications while the 18 in Indianapolis handle program and training, research, affiliate relations and IT. The remaining 15 staff are scattered in home offices around the country.

“Having IT in Indianapolis has helped a great deal, because whenever there’s trouble in New York, IT is able to remotely disconnect and shut down servers,” said Houchin. “Being dispersed across the country, there’s certain times that actually helps. It’s a challenge the rest of the year, to manage communications, with people not in the same office, but it does have its advantages at times like this,” she said.

Employees can’t work from home indefinitely. “The longer it goes on, the harder it gets for folks to do work,” Houchin said. Since the organization’s file server is still shut down, all they have access to is the email. “You only can go so long just using email, sooner or later, you have to get to your files,” she said.

Others organizations are not as lucky. The National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum sustained extensive flooding of the museum space. The museum reopened a week after the storm hit. The museum at the World Trade Center, Ground Zero of the terror attacks, reopened its 9/11 Memorial Preview Site at nearby 20 Vesey St., a few days after the storm. The preview site will operate under modified hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during recovery efforts.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told news service Reuters that floodwaters were pumped out of the World Trade Center site, with some estimates of as much as 200 million gallons.

“While most of the museum’s collection is safe off site, for a few of the large artifacts already in the museum we continue to monitor their condition closely,” Executive Director Joe Daniels wrote in an email to supporters. More than a dozen large pumps removed water from the museum and crews worked to dry out the site, according to Daniels. “Rest assured that everything possible will be done for these historic pieces,” he said.

The GMHC decided to cancel Fashion Forward, its annual fundraiser, and focus on its mission of providing direct support to people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. GMHC reported that several clients walked from the Bronx and Brooklyn to its offices on West 33rd Street for a hot meal the day the storm hit, and more than 400 meals were served while subway service had not yet resumed.

Meanwhile, thousands of animals at the New York Aquarium faced possible relocation after the facility along Brooklyn’s Coney Island boardwalk took a direct hit from Sandy.

The aquarium restored power to two of its main exhibit buildings within days via generators but still was unsure whether it would have to move animals to other facilities. The aquarium is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which operates four zoos in New York City, including the Bronx Zoo. The zoos reopened by the first weekend after the storm, but the aquarium was closed indefinitely.

Since power went down during the storm and the ocean surged past the Coney Island Boardwalk, the aquarium had been working to pump out water from electrical and mechanical areas. Salt water from the surge caused extensive damage to this equipment, making the restoration effort more difficult, according to Jim Breheny, executive vice president of WCS Zoos and Aquarium and director of the Bronx Zoo, via a statement. There are no immediate plans to relocate animals, “assuming we can maintain this generator power.”

“Mitik, the orphaned rescue walrus, weathered the storm without incident and seemed interested and amused by all the activity around him,” said Breheny. “Adult walruses, sharks, penguins, sea turtles, and sea lions all did well in the storm. Our fish collection is also doing well as we have been able to maintain temporary life support on our tanks and exhibits since we lost power when the storm hit,” he said, crediting “the extraordinary effort put forth by the team of professionals” at the aquarium.

Visitors to the New York Aquarium are directed to a fundraising page to help support the facility in its time of need: “All 14 acres of the New York Aquarium were overtaken by surge waters during the storm, creating significant and long-lasting damage throughout the park. Even as the floodwaters rose, our valiant staff worked tirelessly at the Aquarium caring for our animals, including our newest member, Mitik, the orphaned walrus calf. But it will be months before we can reopen our doors. With a lengthy list of repairs before us, there’s no doubt we’ll need additional financial help to get the New York Aquarium back on its feet. Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to help fund our recovery efforts.”

WCS is in the midst of raising nearly $35 million for an expansion – announced in 2009 and expected to break ground this past October – that also has a commitment from the city of $93 million in public funds for the project as part of revitalization efforts and infrastructure improvements in Coney Island. NPT


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