In Detroit after the 2008 recession, and in New Orleans after several devastating natural disasters, place-based grantmaking helped tremendously to ensure stable recovery and long-term sustainability. Using this unique form of grantmaking, which tailors support to the unique needs of historically marginalized areas, funders large and small rallied to save these quintessential American cities. As we continue to face a global crisis created by the coronavirus epidemic, place-based giving can help save America’s working-class families right here in New Jersey.
South Jersey is best known for its vibrant coastline, casinos, and rich farmlands, which often feed residents throughout the state. Yet this bounty rarely translates into a higher quality of life for its own residents. People living in South Jersey counties often have lower incomes and more health concerns, and reach lower levels of education, than the rest of the state.
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Historically, counties in South Jersey are also far less likely than those in the rest of the state to receive state aid or general public benefits like transportation, infrastructure, high-quality schools, and a strong public health system. Coupled with the shutdown of the hospitality industry in response to COVID-19, families in South Jersey have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
The disparities between marginalized and more affluent communities that have long existed are now more palpable. Philanthropy often fills in where the public and private sectors fall short of meeting communities’ needs.
Rather than targeting a single issue, place-based grantmaking focuses on strengthening a specific geographic region, like South Jersey. The approach often leads funders to collaborate closely with those living in the target area to understand where money is needed most, and which interdependent services need to be strengthened together to improve quality of life for the long term.
At the Pascale Sykes Foundation, we have seen firsthand how place-based giving fosters innovative responses to communities’ needs. In 2010, to further our support for improving family well-being in South Jersey, the foundation heard from community members, elected officials, and local nonprofits what their primary needs were for this area.
Unsurprisingly, lack of transportation emerged as a major barrier hindering people’s ability to access new or better-paying jobs. Unlike in cities like Camden and Newark, long roads with inadequate pedestrian walkways make it difficult to travel the three to five miles that exist between towns in South Jersey. Recognizing this was a challenge specific to this region, the foundation quickly responded by forming Transportation Plus, an initiative that provides low-cost, often free, shuttle services to hundreds of working, low-income families in Atlantic, Gloucester, and Cumberland Counties.
We are not alone. Recognizing the unique circumstances of South Jersey, organizations like the Community Foundation of South Jersey and the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation have also stepped in to boost funding to the region by providing grants and capacity building tools around affordable housing, community development, and economic empowerment.
The issue of place-based funding is even more relevant for South Jersey during the COVID-19 pandemic, since New Jersey has one of the highest numbers of coronavirus cases in the country. And even with the possibility of a new stimulus bill passing in Congress, we can do more here at home to support the communities that need it most and are historically underresourced.
While there are many areas in need across the country, and even the world, start by assessing where your resources can have the greatest impact locally. Learn what areas are often overlooked and need your help more than ever. South Jersey is full of homegrown nonprofits that understand the needs of their community better than anyone else, but lack the financial resources to act on it.
We help to take care of each other. Now is the time for greater investment in South Jersey to help keep families afloat as we all weather the long-term impact of this crisis together.