Many years ago Winston Churchill, the great English statesman, opined that no crisis should go to waste, and Albert Einstein, the great German physicist agreed, when he noted that in the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity. New York had the ignominious distinction of becoming the epicenter of the Covid 19, as many in the Irish community were unwittingly thrust into the eye of this devastating economic storm. The “City that never Sleeps” went into lock-down mode. Bars, restaurants, salons and non-essential construction sites were shutdown. Granted some of the displaced workers qualified for unemployment benefits in the Government rescue package, however, there were many who were ineligible for assistance. This was certainly a very vulnerable group as they had no income, no safety net, no health insurance, some with no family support or savings, while still responsible for the usual rent, food, phone and utility bills.
As the crisis escalated, community organizations and leaders realized that the exponentially growing problems could best be tackled by involving the major not for profit stake-holders in the Irish community. So it was against this unfolding crisis that Slainte 2020, a partnership of five well-known and long-standing Irish organizations was formed. The partnership consisted of the Aisling Irish Cultural Center, New York Irish Center, Emerald Isle Immigration Center, United Irish Counties and the New York GAA. Representatives from each organization came together to form a steering committee, which consisted of Caitriona Clarke, (Chairperson, Aisling Center}, Siobhan Dennehy, (Director, Emerald Isle Immigration Center}, Sandra Feeney-Charles, (Director, Aisling Irish Center}, Paul Finnegan, (Director, New York Irish Center}, Joan Henchy, (Chairperson, New York GAA}, Shane Humphries, (Attorney at Law) and Michael O’Reilly, (First Vice-President, United Irish Counties Association) . Strongly supported by the Irish Consulate in New York, their mission was to maximize their influence to ameliorate the lot of those among us who were cavalierly abandoned to suffer harshly and heartlessly during the Covid crisis. Thankfully Slainte 2020 stepped up to the plate and delivered with aplomb approximately $575, 000 to those in dire need. This impressive figure was raised by generous donations from the County Associations, Sports and Cultural Clubs, various organizations, volunteer fund raising initiatives, individual donations as well as a significant donation from the Irish Government. To maximize efficiency, administration expenses were absorbed by the founding organizations and 100% of funds raised went towards approved beneficiaries except where costs were incurred by a fundraising platform.
Overall, 555 grants were made to 1088 beneficiaries, and that included 161 children under 18 years. The hospitality industry accounted for 69% of the recipients and construction represented 25% respectively. Perhaps a good indication of the circumstances of those most affected was that approximately 90% were in the non-status designation. Besides providing desperately needed financial support, Slainte 2020 managed to secure gainful employment for twenty people, plus also direct others to appropriate medical care. Now when you analyze the context or the circumstances that a sum just shy of six hundred grand was raised, it becomes even more impressive. Benjamin Franklin claimed that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. However, from my experience of being involved with teams and clubs for nearly half a century, you could make a comparable claim with as much certitude when it comes to fund raising. Namely bars and builders are universal certainties when it comes to fund raising in the Irish-American communities. Now if you’re the doubting Thomas type, just check any journal or the names on the jerseys in Gaelic Park. Unfortunately we often take these very generous folks very much for granted. Given that bars and builders were shut down for much of Covid, the response to Slainte 2020 was absolutely phenomenal and a glowing testament to the great generosity of the organizations involved, and of course, their supporters. What’s also very gratifying to note is that a number of grant recipients have got back on their feet and donated back to Slainte, while some others have pledged support when the financial horizon gets a little brighter.
Having fully utilized its resources and dispersed over half a million dollars in grant aid, Slainte 2020 has now wound down. Granted the virus statistic is still worrisome, but there’s definitely light emerging into the tunnel as two vaccines are being introduced to combat the epidemic. Its success was possible only because of the incredible response from the community. Each and every fundraising event was so much appreciated- every donation from individuals and groups, from $10 to $10,000 dollars, was directed to those who needed it the most at the time. The Slainte 2020 Committee was truly humbled by the widespread support they received. They are extremely grateful to all the organizations, clubs, groups and individuals who contributed so generously to help offset the distressing conditions that were so harshly imposed on a significant but very vulnerable part of our community. It is important to note also that while Slainte 2020 has come to an end, the organizations involved are still working hard behind the scenes to continue to support those in need. For those who require further assistance, please contact the The Aisling Center, Emerald Isle Immigration Center and the New York Irish Center directly, where all queries will be dealt with in confidence.
The Covid crisis certainly presented an unprecedented challenge for the Irish and Irish-American community to address, namely how best to provide much-needed assistance to those who had fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. By embracing that wonderful Irish expression, ‘Ni neart go cur le cheile’ (There’s no strength without unity) you came through with flying colors and sincere thanks to all involved. Here’s hoping that the good tidings of Christmas continue into the new year as the fallout from Covid 19 soon peters out.