Jacksonville’s beaches are well known for oceanfront homes, beach clubs, tennis and golf facilities and top-notch restaurants. Poverty and hunger do not usually come to mind when people think of the beaches neighborhoods, however destitution has no bounds, and post Hurricane Matthew, more people are in need.

Prior to the hurricane, from Guana State Park to Mayport, the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida identified that approximately 6,000 people were food insecure and underserved in the beaches area; and that number may be on the rise with those who suffered loss due to the storm.

Martha Baker and Tracey Westbrook, both residents of the beaches, serve as board members and Trustees to the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, and helped spearhead the Beaches Community Fund, a hyper local philanthropic initiative making a direct impact on serving the underserved in the Beaches communities.

“There are some hungry kids being dropped off at school,” Baker says. “There are people sleeping in their cars at the library.” There are a lot more needs at the beach than most people realize. In 2012, the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, with Baker and Westbrook’s involvement, did a geographical assessment of where philanthropic funding was coming from and where it was going in the region. This assessment revealed a disproportionate amount of funding coming from the beaches area and very little of it returning to the beach. This struck a chord with Baker and Westbrook, who then spearheaded an effort through the foundation to find out what the needs are in the beaches area, and what organizations were doing to meet these needs. After more than a year of research, they concluded that the needs at the beach are very similar to the needs in the rest of Northeast Florida. And organizations like BEAM and the Mission House along with local area churches were working hard to meet the needs of this community. It was established that the necessary support was more than what individual resources could provide, so a collective giving circle was created.

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Back row, left to right: Bill Buckingham, Lisa Ullman, Renate Hixon, Nancy Chartrand, Ellen Wiss. Front row, left to right: Tracey Westbrook, Allison Forsyth, Helen Short, Jan Healy, Tracy Tousey, Joanne Cohen.

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Lack of public transportation options and a need in stronger early childhood education programming are on the top of the Beaches Community Fund list for 2017.

One of the first things that the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida did in its effort to assess the needs in the beaches area was to bring together nonprofits, churches and individuals that are involved in philanthropic efforts.

“There had never been a convening of the nonprofits out here. They were all shocked that they were invited to meet together,” Baker says. “I can’t believe the groups that turned out, from BEAM to Mission House to Habitat, the arts, the YMCA, the Sontag Foundation, the hospital. It was really a fun moment. If nothing else had come of this, the fact that the beaches nonprofits had a convening meant so much.”

Armed with the research data and passion for their community, Baker and Westbrook decided to start the Beaches Giving Circle and began recruiting friends and neighbors to join them.

“Once they heard the numbers and heard the research that the community foundation had done, everybody was like, you’re kidding, really? How can we help?” Baker says.
In total, 25 beach families committed to join the giving circle, to pool their resources. Each family committed to $10,000 a year for three years.

“I love the idea of collective giving. All of us give to the charities that we feel passionate about and we volunteer our time, and you wonder sometimes if that individual contribution can really make a difference, can really move the needle at all,” giving circle member Jan Healy says. “But by getting a group of people together that all have a common purpose, and we can all work together with our dollars and talents, felt like an opportunity to really make an impact.”

The beaches philanthropic community now meets monthly. “There is real power behind them as a sector,” Westbrook says. They’ve bonded as a community instead of as Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra Beach.

“I love how this group has helped organize all the stake holders in the beaches community,” Healy says. “All of us get together at a table and say this is what the problem is and how can we all solve it together. It has real opportunity for impact in real peoples’ lives.”

The initial effort of the fund is a three year initiative. The founding members would like to see the fund continue in the future and are hopeful to continue attracting new donors to join them. Two issues the committee is currently researching and planning to tackle are transportation and early childhood education. They are passionate about preparing all children for school, and in their discussions with other beaches organizations, transportation has been revealed as a real problem.

Families need cars to get to work. “And if their car stops working, their life stops working and they lose their jobs. They lose their ability to get food. It’s the stuff that we take for granted,” says Glenn Ullman, a member of the fund.

In times of disaster, we often band together to help our neighbors overcome strife. But as things settle and return to a new normal, we often forget that those living within a stone’s throw may struggle with day-to-day living. Creating organizations around hyper-local philanthropy is a wonderful way to stay connected with your community. This holiday season remember that when we lift everyone up, and grow the whole pie through altruism, everybody’s slice gets a little bigger. In return, all of our lives become fuller.

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BEAM is a major recipient of support from the Beaches Community Fund.

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THE BEACHES COMMUNITY FUND IMPACT TO DATE
In 2015, the beaches giving circle was officially established as the Beaches Community Fund under the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida with a focus on three topics: hunger, health and education.

To date, the fund has provided grants to four entities in the community, each with a different purpose meeting a different need. The Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM) received a grant of $75,000 to partner with Feeding Northeast Florida and establish a food bank at 7North in Jacksonville Beach. The new Beaches Community Food Bank operates as a “hub and spoke” model of food distribution, where recovered food from grocery stores is collected and stored locally. It is open for business and serves 30 agencies that provide food and meals in the beaches area. A grant of $30,000 was given to create the Eleanor Ashby Leadership Series. Born out of the convening of all the philanthropic players at the beach, this grant provides training and networking opportunities for beaches-area nonprofits. The seed money of $75,000 was given to build 7North II, a Mental Health Wellness Center for those underserved, as well as an additional $35,000 that was gifted to fund a playground at the new Jacksonville Beach Head Start Center.

WHAT IS THE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION FOR NORTHEAST FLORIDA?
The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida bridges the gap between donors and nonprofit organizations, helping donors invest wisely and helping nonprofits serve the region more effectively. Nearly 500 individuals, families, businesses and organizations like the Beaches Giving Circle have set up funds through the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, each with their own philanthropic goals. And every day, the foundation makes grants on behalf of these donors. With a primary service area of Northeast Florida, thousands of local organizations have benefited from the $369 million in grants they have made since the foundation was established in 1964.

Visit jaxcf.org for more information

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The members of the Beaches Community Fund all call the beaches home.

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Sue Glawe (from left), director of Thrift operations Susan Taylor, BEAM executive director Susan King, Laurie Evans and Mary Quinn-Shalz welcomed guests to a grand opening of the new BEAM Thrift store and Beaches food bank.

Want to become a donor?
Contact Joanne Cohen, vice president, philanthropic services, the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida at 904-356-4483 or visit jaxcf.org/learn/beaches-community-fund