NJ Pandemic Relief Fund tops $10M in first week; Wentworth says much more is needed

Bruce Springsteen goes to bat for the NJ Pandemic Relief Fund.
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This used to be spring gala season.

Not anymore. Not since the coronavirus.

Without their annual fundraising events, countless nonprofits now face the stark challenge of providing vital relief services without resources.

“The needs are going to be way beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before,” said Finn Wentworth, a Morristown philanthropist who is spearheading fundraising efforts for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

Working with Hans Dekker of the Community Foundation of New Jersey in Morris Township, Wentworth has helped raise $10 million in the fund’s first week.

Much more is needed, he said, to help nonprofits and address other medical, social and economic needs wrought by the pandemic.

The fund has garnered shout-outs from a cast of Garden State all-stars, including Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny DeVito, Carli Lloyd, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Charlie Puth:

 

The crisis is far worse than the economic blows from the 2008 meltdown or 9/11, Wentworth said, because a growing public health disaster is at the heart of this one.

Finn Wentworth. Photo: NormandyRealty.com
Finn Wentworth. Photo: NormandyRealty.com

“In order to get the financial crisis in line, you’ve got to solve the public health crisis. What the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund does is, it basically is coordinating resources to fight the medical, social, and the economic impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable.”

Over six million Americans filed for unemployment in the last week, a staggering figure.

From the service sector to tourism to restaurants, “we have a tremendous amount of people who are working paycheck to paycheck, and in this world that we’re in right now, they’re not getting paychecks,” Wentworth said.

“The plan is to identify the highest priority unmet needs….These aren’t loans. These are grants. That’s important.”

‘WE CAN’T GET PARALYZED’

It seems overwhelming.

“We can’t get paralyzed. You can’t get frozen. You know there are more needs than any of us ever imagined. And we’ve just got to be focused on going onward and upward,” he said.

Wentworth, a founder of Normandy Real Estate Partners in Morristown and past president of YankeeNets, has a knack for fund drives. He led a campaign that raised $106 million for Morristown Medical Center in 2016.

He’s part of a team of heavy hitters at the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund. Chaired by the state’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, the nonprofit is being run pro bono by CEO Josh Weinrich, a retired Wall Street hedge fund executive who chairs the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Patti and Ray Chambers at the wellness center named for them, Oct. 9, 2014. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The board includes Newark philanthropist Ray Chambers, who endowed Atlantic Health’s Chambers Center for Well-Being in Morris Township and serves as an ambassador to the World Health Organization, working to eradicate malaria and ebola.

McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, is donating its services to create best practices for allocating grants, Wentworth said.

Out of the gate, he said, the fund received $2 million, plus another $250,000 for Morristown Medical Center, from the charitable foundation of billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper, owner of the Carolina Panthers and a former Livingston resident.

But contributions of any size are gratefully accepted, Wentworth said, adding that all operating expenses are underwritten, so every dollar donated will go directly to relief grants.

“We have over 1,100 people who have donated individually, and that’s from $5 to substantial amounts of money,” he said.

Echoing Gov. Phil Murphy, who channeled Winston Churchill this week to rally the state in its coronavirus war, Wentworth expressed faith in his neighbors.

“New Jersey has always been an extraordinarily philanthropic community. There’s a reason why people love to live in New Jersey, like many of us do. At times, we’re not fully appreciated by people in other parts of the country, in terms of the New Jersey punchline jokes,” Wentworth said.

“But I’m proud to be from New Jersey. I know that everyone on this committee is proud to be in New Jersey.

“And when I looked at the, literally, more than 1,000 people that have donated in the last week, whether it’s $5 or whatever the amount is that they’re comfortable with, it truly is making a difference. And it’s an opportunity for us to rally together.”

Donations to the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund can be made here.

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