As Grantmakers, It’s Our Responsibility to Address the Greatest Need

Produce from CATA, the farmworker organization that is one of New Jersey Health Initiatives’ grantees. Photo: CATA Facebook page.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Jersey, the phone calls kept coming. Grantees wanted New Jersey Health Initiatives’ (NJHI) permission to shift their grant money from their NJHI-funded projects to meet their communities’ needs, which were endless.

As a statewide grantmaking program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NJHI wanted to help shape the conversation about how to create opportunities for the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, and those that are traditionally underserved. When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation allocated $5 million in pandemic response aid to its home state of New Jersey as part of $50 million given nationally, NJHI had the opportunity to tap into its networks of grantees and partners to understand what was happening on the ground, reimagine grantmaking, and identify and fill funding gaps geographically, socio-economically and demographically. NJHI reached out to thought leaders, elected officials, and local health departments. In addition, NJHI talked with experts in the areas of food access and food security — knowing that’s where people felt the first affects of the pandemic-related shutdowns.

As a funder, flexibility, coupled with rapid response, probably was the most important lesson that NJHI learned from the most devastating health and economic crisis of a lifetime. But it wasn’t the only one. In an Op-Ed for, NJHI Director Bob Atkins shares lessons learned and how the collaborative relief efforts of cross-sector community coalitions throughout New Jersey offer hope for a more equitable recovery.

Read the full Op-Ed by clicking here.

Connect with Bob Atkins on Twitter.

Learn more about the $5 million RWJF has committed to relief efforts in its home state of New Jersey.

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