At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Tepper Foundation — alongside its peer organizations in New Jersey as well as the state’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy — co-founded the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund (NJPRF). NJPRF was a comprehensive statewide initiative to meet the needs of New Jerseyans whose lives were disrupted and harmed by the pandemic. Two and a half years later, the lessons from quickly and nimbly distributing more than $66 million in grants through NJPRF continue to inform The Tepper Foundation’s approach to grantmaking. 

Larry Rogers, Treasurer of The Tepper Foundation, who was integral in convening partners to launch NJPRF, noted, “This was an urgent and unprecedented situation requiring that we get resources out the door as soon as possible. To do this, we prioritized open dialogue with frontline community organizations, leaders and other key stakeholders to ensure support was going to the areas of greatest need.”

“The economic fallout in the early days of the pandemic was massive,” said Shelley Skinner, Managing Director of Portfolios at The Tepper Foundation. “All of a sudden, many people were finding themselves unemployed. The strain on vulnerable people who were already living on the edge — paycheck to paycheck — was just gigantic. Many families across New Jersey were contending with big questions: ‘How am I going to put food on the table? What am I going to do with my kids? Do I have sick relatives? How am I going to pay my rent?’ Our response needed to be all-encompassing.

The Tepper Foundation’s staff and leadership team dedicated their expertise and shifted all their working hours to ensuring NJPRF funds were efficiently distributed to vulnerable communities in need across the state as quickly as possible.  Over a two-year period, the team vetted over 700 grant applications and seeded a number of statewide relief initiatives, resulting in $65 million distributed to aid New Jerseyans in need. 

Grants were structured to directly reach families and meet their most pressing needs: emergency funding for food banks, mental health programs, support for caregivers, gift cards for undocumented workers who could not access other relief programs and a pool of funds given to housing counselors to help negotiate down past-due rent, among others. 

Two and a half years after the initial fallout, the collaborative nature of NJPRF continues to serve as a model for how The Tepper Foundation’s staff approaches giving. It also inspired The Tepper Foundation’s white paper documenting key lessons learned.

One thing the pandemic really highlighted for us is the need to have frontline, community-based partners much more prepared for when any kind of disaster strikes, whether it is a health emergency or natural disaster. Much of our current disaster preparedness programming is a response to the fallout of COVID-19,” Skinner noted. “Our close work on NJPRF also gave our staff a more thorough understanding of the regular challenges — even in the best of times — our grantees have.” 

This collaborative and responsive model continues to guide the work of The Tepper Foundation.

Randi Tepper — CEO of The Tepper Foundation, who also served as Chief Operating Officer of NJPRF — added, “It’s critical for us to be able to reach out to partners in the community to really understand what is needed at any given time. That way, we’re always ready for challenges to come.