14:13 PM

Nonprofits Hit By COVID-19 Get Lifeline from Horizon BCBSNJ’s Foundation



During the pandemic, New Jersey’s community-based organizations are seeing demand swell and resources dry up. Here’s how The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is filling the gap.

By Jonathan Pearson, Executive Director, Horizon Foundation and CSR at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey

When Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order on March 16th to close schools and non-essential businesses due to the pandemic, the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance couldn’t completely shut down. It still needed to provide childcare for emergency workers, operate shelters for the homeless, and help coordinate blood drives.

But it did have to pause all of its in-person wellness and fitness classes, which meant it also stopped collecting fees from YMCA members. A major source of income dried up right when its services were most needed, especially for its feeding program.

“We knew it was getting bad when our volunteers who usually serve others were in line to get help themselves,” said Darrin Anderson, PhD, Executive Director of the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance.

The YMCA in our state is hardly the only nonprofit organization struggling. A survey from The Center for Non-Profits in New Jersey revealed that many organizations are canceling programs and postponing fundraisers and at the same time they’re seeing fewer volunteers. Eighty-seven percent of survey respondents said their organization is facing significant disruptions to its programs, and 96 percent anticipated significant disruptions for the remainder of the year.

These difficulties within nonprofit organizations are leading to extra hardship for some of the most vulnerable populations in the state. Families and individuals who rely on these organizations for food, health care, education and basic needs are forced, just like the nonprofits themselves, to adapt to a set of unprecedented circumstances just to survive.

At The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, we’ve also pivoted to address the growing needs of the communities we support. Listening to our nonprofit partners, we have responded with increased collaboration, flexibility and funding to support both short- and long-term COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The Foundation created an action plan, prioritizing several areas in this critical time, including emergency food distribution, shelters and short-term housing, mental health services, health care and medical services, and childcare services. To date, The Foundation has awarded $786,986 to our community-based partners, representing $570,000 in new grants and the rest reallocated from existing grants.

These amounts build on the $2 million that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) gave to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and the $2.5 million donation of personal protective equipment to the State’s coordinated response effort.

For organizations like the YMCA – a partner of The Foundation for 12 years – this funding has allowed them to carry on their missions. In the six to eight weeks following Governor Murphy’s executive order, the YMCA provided care for about 550 children of essential workers and first responders. Today, they continue to provide care for children who are doing remote learning. However, because of social distancing requirements, the YMCA centers can operate only at 10 percent capacity.

“Working with The Foundation allows us to impact the lives of those in our neighborhood,” said Anderson. “We share the same mission of building healthy lives, and they have confidence in us that we are strengthening the foundations of our communities.”

Stepping up when and where we’re needed most

The Foundation’s contributions to our community-based partners have been more than financial. Horizon BCBSNJ employees have donated thousands of their own hours to fill the gap left by an overall decrease in volunteers since the start of the pandemic.

For example, Horizon BCBSNJ volunteers have served more than 100,000 meals for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ). “These volunteers have been absolutely critical,” said Carlos Rodriguez, President and CEO of CFBNJ, whose nonprofit also received extra funding to help support its recovery efforts.

As an organization that literally stands on the front line of this pandemic, distributing meal boxes in food lines across 15 counties, the CFBNJ has seen consistently high demand since March.

Before the pandemic, approximately 900,000 New Jerseyans had experienced food insecurity, meaning they didn’t have reliable access to nutritious food. Today, that number has reached an estimated 1.2 million. The CFBNJ is planning to distribute 80 million meals in the next year, up from 51 million the year before, said Rodriguez.

Although the initial shock of food supply disruptions has eased somewhat since the beginning of the pandemic, food donations to the CFBNJ have dropped dramatically while more and more people enter food lines. And Rodriguez fears the worst may be yet to come.

That’s because unemployment assistance bolstered people’s incomes over the summer, allowing them to shop as they normally would at grocery stores. Now, with that extra $600 of weekly federal help gone and the potential for more layoffs, “we have people who have never been in this situation before, where one economic change can prevent you from putting food on the table,” said Rodriguez.

The economic impact of this upheaval could last years. “After Hurricane Sandy, we provided assistance to some families for five, six years,” he added.

Strategic philanthropic partnerships with groups like The Foundation will enable the CFBNJ to handle the challenge. “Both we and Horizon share a mutual understanding of what the problem is. It’s bigger than providing food. It’s about using our unique resources to create solutions that get people out of the food lines,” said Rodriguez.

This holistic view of creating healthier communities helped guide our additional COVID-19 recovery funding across many diverse organizations, including:

  • George Street Playhouse had been staging Anytown, a middle and high school touring musical that highlights opioid misuse and how it’s impacting teens and families. With schools closed and opioid use rising because of the pandemic, George Street shifted its production online, offering virtual performances with the original cast who will lead post-performance discussions.
  • The Salvation Army New Jersey Division supported emergency food distribution to low-income families and individuals in South Jersey, which includes Atlantic City. The coronavirus shut down every casino and instantly put more than 26,000 people out of work —10 percent of the county’s population, making it the third hardest-hit economy in the country.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Jersey, The Foundation pledges to support our communities for as long as recovery takes. Learn more about our work at community.horizonblue.com.