Bonnie Sirower, who at the time of the storm was the Rotary Club’s division governor for Bergen, Passaic and Hudson Counties, was recognized with a White House visit for her efforts at the helm of the club’s fundraising effort, which she says raised $750,000 in cash and supplies for effected residents values at about $18 million.
“We were going to work on infrastructure that the government did not, or would not, have the funds to replace,” Sirower said of the effort begun in conjunction with other nonprofits with specialties in construction, in addition to government relief agencies. “Whenever you work on a disaster, you don’t work in a vacuum.”
To head up the relief effort, Sirower had 57 Rotary clubs at her disposal – 3,000 people when combined with Project Interact and other partnered student organizations. Keeping with the organization’s mission to bring members’ professional skills to charitable use, she also had a wealth of fundraising skills to work with as the experienced president of Liai$sons for Funding, a company that conducts fundraising on behalf of many nonprofits and foundations.
“I really felt that I had to be the person to put together an effort, because I know fundraising,” she said.
The lesson from the recovery effort, particularly from the perspective of Sirower and her fellow Rotarians, is that critical fundraising often relies on inter-regional and international relationships forged through mutual support.
The day before Sandy hit, Sirower said, “I got an email from my friends [and Rotary members] in Siberia. They knew what was coming and they were already raising money for us.”
The supplies that flooded in filled four warehouses, all empties about five times, she said. And as she continues to keep constant updates circulating on Bergen County’s needs, she makes sure to return the support by keeping up on humanitarian needs in places like Boulder, Colorado, or Moore, Oklahoma, communities have faced their own natural disasters.
While most funds collected recently are diverted to a still devastated South Jersey, Sirower said, the end of the recovery is in sight for Bergen County, though there is still work to do. Nearly 300 homes still require mold remediation; others need repairs. And with insurance money sometimes nonexistent or insufficient, the volunteer effort is still plugging the gaps left by government efforts stretched thin.
For more information on the relief effort, which brings volunteers to homes in need every third weekend, visit the New Jersey-New York Rotary website.