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Giving Brooklyn Nonprofits a Bigger Piece of the Pie

James Barron

The New York Times


The consciously Brooklyn-centric Brooklyn Community Foundation says that the borough is home to nonprofits that are often overlooked by the city’s philanthropic sector. “We know by the data that Brooklyn nonprofits do not get their share of funding,” said Jocelynne Rainey, the president and chief executive of the foundation.

The data says that Brooklyn is home to just under 30 percent of the nonprofits in the city, but its share of philanthropic giving is only 7.6 percent.

Brooklyn is “a borough full of wealth but also a lot of people living on the margins,” Rainey said.

The foundation is addressing the funding gap by giving $100,000 grants to five nonprofits as winners of its annual Spark Prize. “We are leveling the playing field for the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” Rainey said.

One of the five winners is the Workers Justice Project, which established the collective Los Deliveristas Unidos to campaign for higher wages and better working conditions for delivery workers.

Ligia Guallpa, the executive director of the Workers Justice Project, said the money would go toward a $1.7 million delivery hub headquarters in Williamsburg with a charging station and a bicycle repair shop for deliverers, as well as space for work force development and workers’ rights training. She said the group had raised $1.5 million so far, including the $100,000 from the Spark Prize.

The delivery hub headquarters will dovetail with plans to turn existing structures like vacant newsstands around the city into rest stops for delivery workers.

Guallpa said the recognition “adds to the plus of the money.” Another plus, she said, is that the money will come with no strings attached.

“All of our grant making is unrestricted dollars,” Rainey said. “Every grant is given to an organization for them to do what they dream about doing — pay somebody, bring on another staff member, do programming that is really impactful, keep the lights on if they need money for that, pay the rent.”

For the Workers Justice Project and the four other groups chosen as Spark Prize winners, $100,000 “can really help move the needle,” she said, especially when inflation has driven up the cost of supplies, including food and medicine for nonprofits that provide them.

“It’s a time when people think Covid is over and the needs are no longer there,” she said. But unemployment in New York City, which has remained above the national jobless rate, remains a concern for many, as does food insecurity, she said.

The criteria for Spark Prize applicants include Brooklyn roots, at least five years of operation and annual budgets of more than $250,000. The grants will be presented at a breakfast in March that will also honor Jennifer Jones Austin, who was the chairwoman of the city’s Racial Justice Commission. That panel drafted ballot measures that voters approved in November calling for the city to “reconstruct, revise and reimagine” institutions and laws to promote justice and equity.

Guallpa said word of the prize came at the right moment. She was getting coffee before a meeting 10 days ago — “one of those beginning-of-the-year meetings” where the agenda is the agenda, she said. Her cellphone rang, and suddenly she had big news to announce.

“A lot of the deliveristas were not surprised but were excited — ‘Wow, it’s exciting to see our organization being recognized and know we are doing the right thing,’” she said. “This is reaffirming our fight and acknowledges that we are building for the long term.”