Seth Gardner (pictured on the right) in Hattiesburg, MS after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
I have been involved with NECHAMA – as a volunteer, as paid staff, as a board member, and now as Board President – for over 20 years. Throughout that time, we have always sent you a message at this time of year that details our accomplishments, introduces you to a client who has touched our hearts, thanks you for being a supporter, and asks for your continued support. But 2020 is a different kind of year. We’re still proud of our accomplishments, we still met wonderful clients we’ll always remember, and we’re still appreciative of your support. But all of that has happened against the backdrop of the most challenging year we’ve had in my time with the organization.
COVID-19 has changed the landscape of both our operational and financial environment. Fewer people have money to give this year; those who still have it face very real competition for their gift – the need to respond to COVID-19 and the contentious election season have led many to devote their giving to those worthy causes. Over the last nine months, since the pandemic began, we have done our best to limit costs by reducing the size of our organization, giving up our warehouse space, and creating a work-from-home model. We have reduced our full-time staff from six at the beginning of the year down to two at the end of it, and parted with equipment that is not absolutely necessary for our work. These have been difficult and often painful choices, made to ensure NECHAMA’s continued existence as the Jewish response to disaster in the United States.
Disasters have kept happening despite all of that. While adopting processes and procedures designed to keep our staff, volunteers, and clients safe from COVID-19 we have responded to: Earthquakes in Puerto Rico (pre-COVID), Tornados in Nashville, Flooding in Michigan caused by a series of dam breaks, Iowa Derecho (essentially an inland hurricane), and Hurricanes Laura/Delta/Zeta in Louisiana.
As we do every year, we have helped hundreds of people recover from disasters. We also had the opportunity to respond to two non-traditional disasters. When COVID-19 first hit, we looked for ways to be useful outside of our normal services. In the early days of the response, we gave our excess personal protective equipment to local healthcare organizations in desperate need. As it became obvious that those in elder care facilities would need extra support during the lockdown, we partnered with Presbyterian Homes to deliver quarantine kits to residents living in their facilities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Additionally, we assisted in the coordination and delivery of food to Native American reservations throughout the state of Minnesota.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in our home community of Minneapolis, we again looked for ways to provide comfort and hope. While we do not typically respond to human-caused disasters, we felt the urgency of a community hurting in our own backyard. We delivered meals, organized and transported donated items, and helped to clean up and repair small businesses damaged during the civil unrest.
As we come to the end of 2020, we are making an ask that we’ve never made before. I have seen NECHAMA expand and contract over the years, but this year our future is truly at risk. If you are a believer in NECHAMA’s mission, now is the time to give. If you think it is important for the Jewish community to have a seat at the great interfaith table that is disaster response, now is the time to give. Thank you for your continued support.
Seth Gardner, Board President