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Relief groups funded little by little

- Associated Press - Monday, December 31, 2012

NEW YORK — Some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll were on the bill for the nationally televised "12-12-12" concert to benefit victims of Superstorm Sandy, but the charity in charge of distributing donations has been thinking small when it comes to doling out the $50 million-plus raised by Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and other stars.

More than 160 organizations have received shares of the Sandy relief funds collected by the Robin Hood Foundation, and many have been small, grass-roots groups that seemed to be everywhere on the devastated New York and New Jersey coastlines in the initial weeks after the storm.

Some of the grants have been small, too, but the foundation's staff said each has been designed to make a difference on a human scale.

The list of grant recipients includes Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, which received $25,000 to install showers and beds for the stream of volunteers it has been deploying to help rebuild homes.

Numerous food pantries received grants to help serve thousands of hot meals. Another group received $25,000 for making storage space available to families that need temporary places to put salvaged possessions.

Robin Hood gave a $100,000 grant to an operation called Rockaway Relief, put together hastily after the storm by James Brennan, a San Diego nightclub and restaurant owner who grew up on New York City's flood-ravaged Rockaway Peninsula.

In the days after the catastrophe, Mr. Brennan hired tractor-trailers to send space heaters, water pumps and generators into the disaster zone.

Then, he rallied volunteers to help rip out soggy walls and furniture. Since then, the group has repaired plumbing, electrical and heating systems in close to 100 homes, he said.

"This was really way over my head," Mr. Brennan said. "But there is so much more that these people need. I could probably rattle off 500 families right now that don't have washers and dryers and have no way of paying for them."

The foundation gave $150,000 to the Mennonite Disaster Service, which has been dispatching homebuilders almost daily to Staten Island and the Rockaways all the way from Pennsylvania.

The Mennonite volunteers, mostly farmers, leave Lancaster County, Pa., at 4 a.m., put in a full day in the city mucking out homes and hanging drywall, and then make the 170-mile drive back to Pennsylvania at night, said MDS Executive Director Kevin King. So far, they have worked on 117 houses.

"We are looking to set up a long-term camp," Mr. King said.

Founded in 1988 by a hedge fund manager, Paul Tudor Jones, the Robin Hood Foundation is one of New York City's premier charities to fight poverty. It spends about $125 million per year funding food banks, schools, medical clinics and an array of other programs.

Still overseen and financed by big names on Wall Street, the charity is considered a pioneer in "venture philanthropy." The programs it funds are put through rigorous performance evaluations, with a goal of rewarding nonprofit groups that achieve the strongest result per dollar spent.

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