MILLBURN, NJ — When it comes to charitable efforts in Millburn, there are a number of programs and groups that have started up.
Whether it be a new food pantry in town, or the recent slate of mask making, donation collection and other projects, the charitable sprit of Millburn Township shines through. However, one group in town among the rest has been around for over a decade, and works completely confidentially to help Millburn residents.
Down The Block was started in 2008, as the housing and financial crisis became worse, as members of the group saw that some of their neighbors were in need. At that time, they saw no other organization providing this type of assistance and serving the Millburn community.
"We started Down the Block after hearing stories that deeply concerned us - stories of families right here in Millburn Township who were struggling financially to such an extent that their most basic needs - food, shelter, medical care, electricity, heat, etc. - could not be met." The charity biography on the website reads.
However, despite the work the charity does, its work mostly flies under the radar.
Now, with another once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis exacerbating the exact set of issues the charity was started for, Co-President Douglas Yones, Board Member and past President Susan Guerin and PR Chair Adam Goldberg to explain more about what the organization does, and how they work to help in town.
“The purpose of down the block is really simple,” Guerin said. ‘it’s neighbors helping neighbors when they find themselves in a temporary setback, [a] temporary situation where we can come in and provide assistance to pay their bills and get them back on their feet again.”
As Guerin explained, the group does a confidential evaluation of each resident’s personal situation when they come to them, to figure out what services they need to provide.
Following that, the group will give the resident resources to help, such as a food bank or other things, and then the group will also try to pay bills directly, like rent, utilities or insurance payments directly to the organization collecting the bill, allowing the resident to not have to stress about that financial burden.
However, despite the nature of the work they do, the group takes great care in maintaining almost absolute confidentiality in their charity work.
“Everything is maintained very confidentially,” Yones said. “We’re an entire volunteer organization, so our board member will be assigned an applicant, and that’s the only person who’s on the board that really knows the name and personal information of that applicant.”
Yones added, “For town residents, they can feel really confident that they’re not sharing and disclosing their information across a whole group of people.”
Most importantly, Yones said the group is there to help bridge the gap for people who find themselves in a short-term situation.
And with the major economic downturn happening as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group enters territory it has never seen before.
“I think it’s presented new concerns as well as new challenges for us,” Yones said. “Down the Block has been around for a long time and has seen both good times and bad economically and given that we’re an entirely volunteer organization, all donations are used for applications.
“Our expectation is that the needs in the community will be greater than they’ve ever been, and so it’s presented a new challenge for us, which is, historically, we haven’t really spent a lot of time focusing on fundraising, and instead we focused most of our time on awareness campaigns, making sure the residents knew we existed.”
Yones also said that this is the first time the organization has noted that their limited fundraising will need to be increased to help the influx of people who will be looking for help, as people remain in need and out of work.
As Goldberg explained, with the increased focus on fundraising, there are a number of ways residents can donate to the organization, including PayPal, Venmo, by check or directly through the website. As for donations, with a board of entirely volunteers, almost all the money donated goes directly to helping those in need, with minimal spending for the necessities of running a charity.
Along with that measure, the board is required to donate their own money to the cause as well, which ones explained, helps them stay logical and grounded when it comes to dispersing donations to the community.
"When we're making a decision about how and where and at what level to help different people, we know that it's not just other people's money, it's our own money as well," Yones said.
"The amount of expenses is also exceptionally low," Guerin added. "There's very few expenses. Virtually all the money goes back to applicants. So as a charity goes, we're probably the lowest cost charity."
Overall, the message of the group is simple, and one that they hope residents in town will work to help them with.
“Need doesn’t go away,” Yones said. “Financial turbulence, individually, doesn’t go away over the years, even with an incredibly roaring economy, people will find themselves in tough times.”
“It’s really important that our residents are aware that we exist, and we’re here to help,” he added.
To donate to Down The Block, visit the following link https://www.downtheblock.org/donate-now email them at email@example.com call by phone at (973) 943-1424 or write them a letter or check addressed to PO Box 7, Short Hills, NJ 07078
Venmo — @DownTheBlock, and check, credit card/debit card, PayPal or Venmo are all donation options