The devastating impacts of Covid-19 have been far-reaching, and for humanitarian organizations, it has been especially difficult, but often they are like angels in the storm for those in need. Hearts to Homes is one of these.
As an organization that helps young adults who are aging out of foster care in the New York City area, they have been going the extra mile to help affected youth in the wake of the pandemic. According to founding member Mary Theresa McCombe, when foster youth make their transition to independent living, they often don’t have sufficient resources.
The majority of these individuals are also people of color. While government funds cover a small portion of the aging out process, it is not enough to furnish even a small apartment with many of the essentials we take for granted. The smallest things like an iron or hairdryer, which make a big difference in daily life, can be out of reach for someone of limited means.
Hearts to Homes raises funds through special events, direct fundraising appeals, and social media to help these young adults with furniture, dishes, and cleaning supplies.
“Their discharge grant covers very little. This can be very depressing. It’s not good for mental or physical health, and can lead to increased rates of homelessness,” said McCombe. She created Hearts to Homes in 2016 with the help of friends in response to this gap in services.
Since then, the organization has been receiving referrals from foster care agencies in New York City and Westchester County. The true magic of what Hearts to Homes does is not just providing household items, but giving young people hope, and reducing some of their stress so they can focus on building their futures.
For example, recipients can choose the color of their bedding or the style of sofa. “It is empowering for someone who hasn’t had a lot of choice in their lives to be given these options,” said McCombe. The excitement and gratitude from these young people when they see their items are priceless. With Covid-19, fundraising has been harder than normal, but according to McCombe, donors, volunteers, and friends have all stepped up to the challenge.
In May, when the pandemic was at its worst in NYC, an anonymous donor challenged Hearts to Homes to raise $20,000 and said they would match it with another $20,000. The organization raised $24, 000 and decided to use a portion to provide a small stipend to their alumni. According to McCombe, 80% of their recipients live in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings, where virus cases were exceptionally high. Many of these youth, unemployed because of the pandemic, had no food or cleaning supplies, so they were provided with gift cards to help with these expenses. Over $17, 000 was given in Covid relief.
With foster care agency personnel working from home, referrals dropped drastically, and there were delays in getting the supplies, but Hearts to Homes was determined not to abandon those in need. When vendors were unable to deliver to agencies' or recipients’ doors, Hearts to Homes volunteers and donors stepped in and did the deliveries.
“Covid-19 has challenged our organization in little ways. They were small complications compared to the deaths, but they affected our operations from logistics down to accounting. However, we could not shut down; kids were still in need, and the silver lining was getting to meet our recipients.”
With a second wave of the virus projected, this emergency relief may be needed again, and McCombe and her team are ready to jump right in. All they need is your assistance. “There are 700 kids aging out of care in this area every year. Hearts to Homes is only able to assist a fraction. The more donors we have, the more youth we are able to support. Our biggest dream is to have enough support to help all the youth in New York City,” said McCombe.
— For more information, visit www.heartstohomes.org