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MassNeeds: Collaboration counters winter basic needs crisis

Posted by Chad O'Connor  January 21, 2014 06:00 AM

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This winter, many low and moderate income families are facing desperate times. Their basic needs such as food, fuel, clothing, and shelter are not being met. Food assistance charities are seeing record demand for their services, Federal low-income heating assistance has been cut by more than half, rents are at all-time highs, and thousands of homeowners struggle to make payments on their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

To help address this issue, MassNeeds, a coordinated effort, which includes 51 corporate, public and private foundations, has announced a more than $13 million commitment this winter to support nonprofits in Massachusetts that focus on basic needs. The financial commitment is more than a fifty percent increase over last year’s efforts.

MassNeeds was formed in 2009 to raise awareness around the issues people are facing in the Commonwealth and highlights important nonprofit organizations that help families in need across Massachusetts. MassNeeds also provides a central location for both funders and citizens to help address these issues through donations of time, talent, and financial resources.

According to Blake Jordan, Executive Director of Highland Street Foundation, MassNeeds was formed out of discussions between the Boston Foundation, the Eos Foundation, and the Highland Street Foundation. They were all doing work under the winter assistance umbrella and decided to collaborate, and each foundation identified effective nonprofit organizations to spotlight.

MassNeeds provides networking opportunities for the organizations and brings in speakers such as Catherine D’Amato, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Boston Food Bank, to talk about where they see a need and the work they do with agencies. “It’s great when you can bring people together to collaborate that normally don’t unite,” said Jordan.

MassNeeds has benefitted from a partnership with the Associated Grant Makers (AGM), the regional association of philanthropic organizations, in working to promote the impact of the MassNeeds collaboration. According to AGM’s Executive Director, Jeffrey Poulos, AGM has provided backbone support for MassNeeds. They built and maintain MassNeeds’ website, educate AGM members about winter needs, provide strategies to address those needs, and bring people together to create awareness and help the MassNeeds’ effort grow.

“The MassNeeds’ effort is fairly unique in this country. I am not aware of such a significant effort among funders to this degree with 51 plus corporate, public and private foundations collaborating and collectively working together to support an effort. Our state and region should be proud, but we should not rest on our laurels. So much more is needed.” said Poulos.

“MassNeeds is brilliant. Developing a centralized location and coordinated efforts really helps the community impacted. The services provided are immeasurable,” said Sharon Reilly, Executive Director of Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit organization MassNeeds supports, which provides children ages 0 to 12 with some of the most important basics of life, such as clothing, school supplies, and toys free of charge.

According to Reilly, Cradles to Crayons gave 60,000 packages to children in need in 2013; however, much more is needed. There are 300,000 children in need. Many kids don’t even own a winter coat or a book or have winter boots to get to school in. “That can contribute to low self esteem, and we know that low self esteem contributes to behavioral problems,” said Reilly.

The Citizens Bank Foundation, which focuses on fighting hunger, providing shelter, strengthening communities, and teaching money management, is a MassNeeds funder. Rick Musiol, Sr. VP & Director of Public Affairs and Andrea Martinez Frey, VP & Sr. Charitable and Sponsorship Manager at RBS Citizens Financial Group, said “It is important for foundations to come together and raise awareness of organizations they work with and determine how best we can make the most impact in the communities in which we live and work.”

“Things are better than 5 years ago but are still hard for folks,” said Jordan. According to statistics provided by MassNeeds, 19,000 people are currently homeless in Massachusetts, 1 in 4 MA children are food insecure, MA residents living on less than $10,000 per year spend an average of 42% of their household income on energy costs, and 645,301 children in MA are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.

“People can write a check, but volunteers that can donate their time and skills are also in great need. A volunteer can make a world of difference,” said Jordan. A listing of nonprofits focused on winter assistance vetted and endorsed by MassNeeds can be found on the nonprofits page of the MassNeeds website.

Ellen Keiley is President of EMK Consulting Group, a provider of business development and brand building consulting services. She is also President of the National Association of Women MBAs Boston Professional Chapter Board of Directors, serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Board, serves as a Vice Chair of the United Way and City Year’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, appears weekly on RadioBDC’s Global Business Hub segment, and is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at; connect on Twitter @ellenmkeiley.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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