I-Team Tracks Sandy Relief Money from 12-12-12 Concert

Some of the biggest names in music, from the Rolling Stones and The Who to Roger Waters and Paul McCartney, came together for the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief to raise millions of dollars. The money went to its organizer, the nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation, but since then many victims of the storm have been asking where the money went.

To find out, the I-Team analyzed the numbers, interviewed Robin Hood's top executive, and reached out to hundreds of nonprofit organizations that received grants after the concert.

The Robin Hood Foundation has already disbursed $50 million to more than 320 nonprofits in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but not all of that money has gone directly to rebuilding homes or into the hands of affected homeowners.

About 54 percent of the concert donations have been designated for housing rehabilitation and relief. The other 46 percent is paying for human services, like counseling, education, health and for reimbursing smaller nonprofits that provided emergency response in the hours and days immediately following the storm.

Managers of the Robin Hood Foundation say they are maximizing the effect of donations by diversifying their grants, but some flooded homeowners wish the entirety of the concert proceeds would go directly to people who lost homes.

“It should be easier for the actual victims to be able to get this kind of funding and money if it's out there,” said Jeff Greenberg, whose East Rockaway house was ruined by the storm surge.

Greenberg said he called the Robin Hood Foundation soon after the concert, looking for rebuilding help. He said he was directed to a list of nonprofit partners on the organization’s website, but none could help him rehab his ruined floors.

“If there is a concert that made millions of dollars it should be available," said Greenberg.

But Deborah Winshel, president and COO of the Robin Hood Foundation, points out that managing the 12-12-12 concert donations is an exercise in balancing many unmet needs, of which housing is just one. Benefits counseling, for example, can act as a funding multiplier, helping storm victims help themselves far more than a direct grant worth a few hundred dollars.

“If they were denied FEMA, if they were denied insurance, a small amount of counseling can actually provide a huge benefit if suddenly they have access to thousands of dollars in insurance money or FEMA money that can get them back in their house,” said Winshel.

In other words, if Robin Hood grants $25,000 to an organization that helps homeowners file for previously denied FEMA help, and as a result 10 homeowners receive $10,000 each in federal funds, that initial investment by Robin Hood has quadrupled in terms of aid.

That kind of philanthropic efficiency is a hallmark at the Robin Hood Foundation. The organization emphasizes its salaries and administrative costs are funded entirely by its wealthy board of directors, which allows Robin Hood to dedicate 100 percent of every donated dollar to program services.

After the storm, Robin Hood also made a priority of helping nonprofit partners restore flooded facilities and equipment damaged by the storm.

The INN on Long Island, an organization that helps the homeless, received $50,000 to help repair damaged soup kitchens and to fix the homes of families in need.

City Harvest, which collects unused restaurant food and delivers it to the hungry, lost 17 delivery trucks when floods overwhelmed a garage. A $250,000 grant from Robin Hood will pay to replace two of the trucks.

Jilly Stephens, City Harvest executive director, said basic services like food provision remain just as important for Sandy victims as mold remediation and temporary rental assistance.

“You can run the gamut between housing and putting food on the table. Everything in between is where people need help still,” said Stephens.

The Robin Hood Foundation does not typically give grants directly to individuals, but instead aggregates donations and then gives the money to smaller local nonprofits which often have a better understanding of community needs.

One of those nonprofits is the Moonachie/Little Ferry Relief Fund, which was given $100,000 in concert donations to tear out and replace waterlogged, moldy insulation in 110 mobile homes near Teterboro Airport.

Portlight Strategies is another smaller nonprofit using $25,000 in concert donations to rebuild wheelchair-accessible ramps that were lost to the storm as well as replace ruined medical equipment for the disabled.

Volunteers from St. Peter’s University Hospital are using $25,000 to help New Jersey residents rebuild homes. 

As for the remaining 46 percent of the Robin Hood grants, that money has gone to food, education, legal advice for homeowners dealing with FEMA applications and insurance claims, mental health counseling and reimbursing other nonprofits.

The Robin Hood Foundation gave New Jersey’s Community Health Law Project $125,000 to help low-income disabled people in Ocean and Monmouth Counties navigate a web of social service applications.

A spokesperson said the grant money is helping battle a “second wave” of problems since Sandy, including legal help for people who took in displaced neighbors after the storm only to find themselves in trouble for illegal occupancy.

The Borough of Belmar received $150,000 from Robin Hood and was able to match that figure with outside donations. It’s using the money to help homeowners pay bills for everything from reconstruction to credit cards. Homeowners can receive up to $5,000 and renters up to $2,000.

The I-Team made efforts to reach out to every one of the more than 300 grant recipients, asking how each used its share of the foundation money. 

On its website, the Robin Hood Foundation has a complete list of all nonprofits that have received grants, the stated reason for the grant and the amount. There is also a breakdown, by percentage, of how the money has been distributed.

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