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Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Kit Noble
As you read this, there’s a father sitting at his kitchen table trying to decide between buying groceries and paying his rent. There’s a single mother sharing a bedroom with her teenage son in a small house where they live with five other families. There’s a little boy living in a car with his parents so that he can continue to attend a good school in a safe neighborhood. What do all these people have in common? They all live on Nantucket.
It’s hard to believe and maybe even harder to hear, but on this slice of heaven there are families suffering through a very real personal hell. Hidden from the public eye, folks are struggling to get by day-to-day on Nantucket. Even with the best intentions, recognizing the greatest needs of the community can be difficult.
That is where the Community Foundation for Nantucket comes in: “There are so many nonprofits on Nantucket and it’s very hard for all the donors to know where the money is needed, so what we can do is centralize that,” explained Jeanne Miller, the Community Foundation’s project manager. “We take away the questions of who needs it most and how to decide where donors should put the funds that they want to give to Nantucket.”
The Community Foundation is not programmatic; it doesn’t provide direct services to citizens. Instead, it serves as a fund holder, “connecting people who care with causes that matter,” as the organization’s executive director Margaretta Andrews put it. “We support Nantucket through our nonprofits by providing direct grants, by providing educational opportunities, and really by providing anything that can be helpful in their missions,” she said. The Community Foundation manages seventy-seven different funds, and just last year, they surpassed the $1 million mark in grants to local nonprofits.
“They know the community. They know all the nonprofits. They know what everyone’s doing and where the need is,” said Janis Carreiro of the Rental Assistance Program on Nantucket, which helps island residents pay their rent in times of crisis. Janis’s clients range from low-income families trying to make ends meet in the slow times of winter to residents who can normally pay their rent but have been derailed by unexpected illness or family crisis. Janis’s clients are the workers who keep the island ticking, from landscapers to waiters to bank tellers. “There is virtually no year-round rental housing on this island right now,” she explained. “And what is available comes at a premium. The rents are going up and the wages are not.” As a consequence, Janis is busier than ever.
“As a small nonprofit, I am so grateful that the Community Foundation is here,” Janis said. “In one simple application, I am able to spend a small amount of time and know that they are able to get to a base of donors that I will never be able to get to.”
The Community Foundation developed the Nantucket Fund to directly serve nonprofits like the Rental Assistance Program that operate in the human services sector. “We try to provide a vehicle through the Nantucket Fund where donors can support these areas where there is a huge need, without having to pick and choose, without having to say one nonprofit is more important than another,” Margaretta Andrews explained. “Because we do the due diligence for them, they can know that those dollars that they are giving to the Nantucket Fund are being used very strategically and really making an impact.”
From the nonprofits’ perspective, the Community Foundation not only provides them with critical funding, but also creates a network for them to collaborate. For instance, when Community Sailing was given a grant four year ago by the Community Foundation, they discovered that there were other nonprofits that they could be serving as well. “They saw very clearly how their program for sailing could be used, not just for kids, but for respite for caregivers, for some of our most at risk and at need people on the island, for kids who are challenged and their siblings, and for our elderly,” Margaretta explained. Had the Community Foundation not joined them all in a room together, this collaboration might have never occurred.
“They’re a big part of the collaborative spirit of the nonprofits here because they’re the central hub of service,” said Anne Marie Bellvance, the executive director of the Food Pantry. “I find that elsewhere, nonprofits work in their silos and are very private and very closed. The Community Foundation creates a very open environment. We can work together and help each other out, because many of us are serving the same families.”
Last March, Anne Marie and the Food Pantry gave out more than 1,200 bags of groceries to 352 families on Nantucket. While generous donations from Stop & Shop, Bartlett’s Farm, Moors End Farm and Something Natural help keep the food bank stocked, the nonprofit still depends desperately on fundraising. The grant the Food Pantry received from the Community Foundation last year will help ensure that its clients will have access to fresh produce from local farms. “The grant we received from them was one of our largest grants,” Anne Marie explained. “The Community Foundation is one of the angels of the island.”
One only needs to attend the Community Foundation’s annual grant awards breakfast to witness the powerful impact the organization has on Nantucket’s nonprofits. One after another, representatives from twenty-seven nonprofits take the stage to receive their grants. They’re each given two minutes at the microphone to express their gratitude and explain how the grant will help them continue on their mission. But, when people’s lives can literally be saved by the Community Foundation’s help, words cannot fully describe the impact that it has.