In March 2020, businesses and schools began to shut down and our residents quarantined for what was expected to be a two-week period in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. When the two weeks passed and the situation had only worsened, United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties (UWMOC) recognized the challenges that our community would be facing in the months to come. Prior to the pandemic, 34% of families in Monmouth and Ocean counties were already struggling to make ends meet, and the widespread loss of employment further intensified the demand for help with basic needs.
In anticipation of these hardships, UWMOC quickly organized a COVID-19 Recovery Fund to address the unmet needs of people and organizations economically impacted by this crisis. Thanks to generous donations from individuals, corporations and virtual fundraisers, United Way distributed over $70,000 to our partner organizations to aid in our community’s recovery. The first $20,000 in donations to the UWMOC COVID-19 Recovery Fund were graciously matched dollar for dollar by Grunin Foundation and New Jersey Natural Gas.
A competitive mini-grant process was opened to United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties’ partners, through which a total of 11 organizations were chosen to receive funds. The grants enabled some nonprofits to safely reopen, and also helped 512 households financially impacted by COVID-19 with their basic needs. The recipients of these grants were: Affordable Housing Alliance, Mental Health Association of Monmouth County, Monmouth Day Care Center, NJ 2-1-1, O.C.E.A.N. Inc., Ocean County YMCA, Social Community Activities Network (SCAN), St. Francis Community Center, Toms River Regional School District, Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey, and YMCA of Greater Monmouth County.
Monmouth Day Care Center (MDCC) in Red Bank was one of the organizations awarded a grant for crucial items in order to reopen in compliance with New Jersey’s COVID-19 standards.
“A top priority at MDCC has always been the safety of our children, their families and our staff,” stated Heidi Zaentz, Executive Director of Monmouth Day Care Center. “During this pandemic it has become even more important, and UWMOC’s support made it possible for us to purchase much-needed supplies, including safety shields, PPE, disinfectants, and toys for individual children to use to avoid cross-contamination. We thank United Way for helping MDCC keep our families safe.”
Funding for the Toms River Regional School District provided critical extended-day educational services and interventions to Cedar Grove Elementary School students, particularly those experiencing a regression due to the limitations of an exclusively virtual learning environment implemented as a result of the COVID-19 virus.
“The impact of the pandemic has been unfair to all school-aged children, but none more than our vulnerable population of students,” said Cedar Grove Elementary Principal Stacey Monetti. “This grant allowed us to address these inequities by providing targeted academic support to our neediest children.”
UWMOC also supported the efforts of NJ 2-1-1, a health and human services hotline with critical resources for all residents of New Jersey, particularly those affected by COVID-19. The grant helped expand their staff and resources to handle the increased call volume, which more than doubled since the start of the pandemic. As of December 2020, NJ 2-1-1 had assisted over 27,000 residents of Monmouth and Ocean counties with immediate needs during this crisis.
In addition to funds raised to support our community, UWMOC also coordinated a variety of donation drives to help ensure that basic needs were being met.
In April 2020, UWMOC connected supporters Manny and Julie Jimenez of Mat-Pac and their generous donation of much-needed paper products to various organizations in our community.
Over 7,000 rolls of toilet paper and more than 300 rolls of paper towels were distributed to the following local nonprofits to give to their clients: Christopher J. Morrissey Foundation, Fulfill, Interfaith Neighbors, Lunch Break, Meals on Wheels of Ocean County, Saint Gregory’s Pantry, and Sunnyside Foster Kids. UWMOC supporter Joe Devito of Bacchus Winemaking also donated warehouse space for the paper goods and employee assistance.
Many parents and caregivers in Monmouth and Ocean counties unfortunately lack a sufficient supply of diapers for their young children to remain clean, dry and healthy. Diapers cost an average of $80 a month for one baby, and they cannot be obtained with WIC, food stamps, or any other government program. With additional financial obstacles due to the pandemic, families are having to make even more difficult decisions about how their limited funds are spent.
In order to help fulfill this need, a Diaper Drive was hosted by UWMOC’s Women United leadership group in June 2020. Over 27,500 diapers were donated by local companies and individuals and were given to Child Care Resources of Monmouth County and The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey to distribute to families in need throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Senior Comfort Bags
Social distancing guidelines have further isolated those who are more vulnerable to contracting the virus, such as our senior population. UWMOC launched the Senior Comfort Bag project in July 2020 in order to help ease the seclusion that many seniors in our community face.
New Jersey Natural Gas donated tote bags for the project, and residents of K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Monmouth Woods packed them with snacks, toiletries, games, notes of encouragement and more. UWMOC Advisory Board Member Carol Stillwell of Stillwell-Hansen facilitated the donation of Girl Scout Cookies for the bags as well. SUEZ Water South Jersey also hosted a Senior Comfort Bag project with their employees, assembling over 100 bags for members in our community.
UWMOC partnered with the Meals on Wheels programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties for all comfort bags to be delivered directly to seniors in their homes.
United In Gratitude
Front-line workers have been the true heroes during these unprecedented times. UWMOC developed the United in Gratitude project for volunteers to create letters and artwork thanking our local health care workers, firefighters, mail carriers, delivery drivers, etc. for their hard work and perseverance.
New Jersey Natural Gas employees and other individuals thoughtfully wrote more than 45 letters which were given to our local heroes at health care facilities and fire stations to lift their spirits.
Rebuilding and Moving Forward United
United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties is building a better future for our community, one where every person has an equal opportunity to thrive. Our goal is not to “return to normal” – we need to reimagine a new normal that equips our residents to weather inevitable future crises. United Way is unparalleled in our power to connect partners, providers and resources to address the needs of our community. Together, we will overcome this health and economic crisis. The tough work needed to help us recover is what United Way does every day. We prepare children for success in school, work and life. We connect those in financial distress with resources to pay bills and stay in their homes. We value the health of our community members and their access to adequate care.
Thank you to our volunteers, community partners, and all of our supporters for stepping up to help your neighbors in need. Now, more than ever, UWMOC needs your support to do what we do best in the aftermath of disasters -- help Monmouth and Ocean counties respond, recover, reimagine and rebuild. To move forward, we must Live United.