Human Services / Nonprofit Sector

Without Safety Net, Nonprofits Go Above and Beyond in COVID-19 Response

August 11, 2020

On March 27, the height of the pandemic crisis in New York City, NFF launched the NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund, designed to support NY human services and arts organizations with emergency, interest-free loans. As managers of the lending process, we reviewed hundreds of applications from nonprofits large and small, giving us a unique window into the state of the sector when the crisis hit and beyond. 

In a previous post, we highlighted how government funding practices make nonprofits vulnerable to a crisis like COVID and hamper their ability to respond.  

Yet despite this, New York City government and residents needed the support of nonprofits more than ever and called on them to provide services above and beyond their normal output, despite the lack of adequate resources to do the work.  

The future of government funding to nonprofits is in peril and even in the face of increasingly difficult circumstances, many organizations have stepped up to care for members of their communities. We want to highlight the work of some of the NYC Response & Impact Fund recipients and showcase how their flexibility, ingenuity, and determination is providing critical services to those who need them most: 

  • Housing Court Answers, offering eviction prevention services, has seen a significant increase in calls from tenants concerned about being evicted or who are being illegally locked out of their homes by landlords or roommates in crowded and shared housing.  

  • Korean American Family Services Center, an organization that provides prevention and intervention services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault indicated that calls to their domestic violence hotline doubled as many of its clients were forced to quarantine with abusive partners.  

  • Bay Ridge Center, assisting older adults in Brooklyn, has seen a dramatic increase in demand for food services. They have added new delivery routes and have hired two more staff for delivery coordination. As well, in response to the effects of the forced isolation of sheltering in place, they have developed a robust schedule of online programming and have on-boarded over 500 active participants to their platform.   

  • Henry Street Settlement has increased meal delivery to seniors from 1400 meals a day to 2000 meals a day and is bringing 8000 meals a week into the shelters. They are re-directing food that would normally go to after school snacks and turning two community centers into a food pantries. To date, they have delivered 350,000 meals to New Yorkers during the pandemic. 

In addition to the services they traditionally provide, many organizations quickly adapted their operations to broaden their existing programs or provide COVID-related services to meet the needs of the community.  

  • Grand Street Settlement Converted the GrandLo Café, a commercial space previously used for running a social enterprise focused on youth workforce development, into a community resource center where people can obtain screening and enrollment in benefits, help with unemployment, free tax preparation, and food pantry distribution in partnership with Project Eats and City Harvest. It has also repurposed vans from other programs for meal delivery services for seniors, as well as mobile benefits screening and enrollment centers.  

  • Breaking Ground, a provider of homeless services, contributed to subway outreach efforts following the Governor’s mandate to shut down NYC subways nightly for cleaning. They moved 75 staff from day shifts to night shifts in 36 hours without any additional resources from NYC, such as hazard pay. They also distributed masks and gloves, mobilized to find places for people without housing to quarantine, and provided devices for those in need of remote psychiatric care.   

In these times of unprecedented need, nonprofits are running toward the fire. They are supporting local communities with safety net services even if they do not know when, or if, they will be reimbursed or receive adequate funding. As resources keep dwindling or get stuck in legislative limbo, almost every nonprofit is feeling the burden.  

At NFF, we are responding not only with capital but by bringing nonprofits together to compare notes and create survival strategies. We encourage you to support a nonprofit serving your community, because they aren’t letting their clients go through this alone—and nonprofits shouldn’t be alone either. We all need support, especially when doing more with less.  


Concerned about the economy? Visit our Managing through Economic Uncertainty page for practical tips, tools, and advice for nonprofits and funders.