Grains of Sandy

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” So said New Yorker Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. While today that credo is generally reserved for graduation cards and garden paving stones, it could be the battle cry of local charities in post-Sandy New York. Donors from New York and beyond rose to the occasion by giving money, time or whatever they had in their cupboards to fill the needs of those around them.

Most of the cash resources went to the big brand-name charities: The five organizations that raised the most funds for Sandy relief accounted for 72 percent of all contributions, according to reports filed with the New York Attorney General’s office at the end of March, the most recent available. The American Red Cross alone accounted for more than half of all the money raised for Sandy relief and recovery, with $323.5 million in cash and in-kind donations. As of that date, it had distributed less than half of it.

The big players also included the Robin Hood Foundation, Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City (which on Monday announced it had raised more than $60 million for Sandy relief and rebuilding), Salvation Army and Empire State Relief Fund. Another pack of charities — mostly local branches of national and international nonprofits that contributed to Sandy relief as part of larger charitable missions — brought in between $500,000 to $15 million each in less than 6 months, for a total of $184.2 million.

But it’s the little guys whose stories have largely been overshadowed in the storm’s aftermath: small funds that raised less than $500,000 each. Combined, the small Sandy charities raised $7.3 million. That’s just 1 percent of the total contributions to Sandy relief — or roughly the same amount that AmeriCares Foundation, an international disaster relief and humanitarian aid not-for-profit, received for Sandy relief over the same period.

Hidden in the New York Attorney General’s files on Sandy charities lies a treasure trove of stories about community, allegiance, and impact. From Acupuncturists Without Borders, who raised $3,400 and provided “community-style acupuncture at clinics they created since Sandy,” to the veterans group Hope for the Warriors, which raised $10,500 to help 12 families but lost its own lower Manhattan offices in the flood, the rise of DIY Sandy social entrepreneurs is as inspiring as it is often accidental.

The chart shows the long tail of Sandy relief charities registered with the New York State Attorney General. All the organizations detailed in the chart raised less than $500,000 through March 31, 2013, for Sandy relief. While some are well-established organizations, others filled out their questionnaires by hand, sprinkling sweet details into reports of projects that were never intended to become full-time jobs or corporate enterprises.

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