When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of families that needed help meeting their everyday needs skyrocketed in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Interfaith Neighbors helped twice as many families suddenly.

To meet those needs, Paul McEvily, executive director of Interfaith Neighbors, a nonprofit that assists the community with a homelessness prevention program, meal programs and more, pointed to the expansion of its year-round Kula Urban Farm.

“Communities are important,” McEvily said. “People who reside in that community need to understand and appreciate what makes the community thrive, and a community thrives when everyone in that community is doing well.”

The Kula Urban Farm, named for a Sanskrit word for “community of the heart,” includes a greenhouse and hydroponic growing. It provides seasonal employment for people looking to reenter the workforce, including those coming out of incarceration. It hosts community meals and educational STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workshops after school. Revenue from selling produce to restaurants goes into Interfaith Neighbors’ other services.

With a $100,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation’s A Community Thrives initiative, Interfaith Neighbors is one step closer to expanding the farm.

Find out more about this year’s winners:Gannett Foundation A Community thrives program provides a boost to black youth arts centers and refugee advocacy.

It is among 16 organizations that have received grants between $25,000 and $100,000. USA TODAY’s parent company, Gannett, sponsors the initiative. All grant recipients raised money through crowdfunding before receiving a grant.

This $2.3 million fund supports social organizations that address various issues. These issues include homelessness, LGBTQ mental health, gender equality, and reproductive care. A Community Thrives donated $17 million to community-based charities since 2017.  

“Now in its fifth year, A Community Thrives awards grants to many significant causes helping to improve lives.  Each of our grant winners is making a positive impact, and we are proud to support organizations that share our purpose,” Gannett CEO Mike Reed said. 

Kristin Burgoyne is the executive director at Refugee Connect. A $25,000 grant means that more families will benefit from resettlement in the USA.

Refugee Connect established a Community Navigation Program. This program hired cultural leaders from refugee and immigrant groups to reach out to families and connect them with resources. They also help to ensure that they are able to navigate financial and educational systems.

“I’ve been doing this work for about 13 years now, working with refugees and immigrants in different cities, and the common thing that I would say to any community where you have a significant refugee or immigrant population, is the best thing that you can do to show your support for those communities is to be welcoming,” Burgoyne said.

Refugee Connect, which is located in Cincinnati but operates in northern Kentucky and southwest Ohio, hopes that the grant money will be used to support 50 more families. Families will be able to receive assistance in their language from someone who’s experienced migration or resettlement.

The organization plans to support families evacuated from Afghanistan after the United States withdrew from the country, leaving many vulnerable when the Taliban seized control. Partnering with resettlement organizations in northern Kentucky, Refugee Connect assembles welcome teams to help Afghans find jobs, health care providers and other resources by working with churches and mosques.

“Now we’re able to use this funding to really support that people power, because of this grant,” Burgoyne said. “It makes a difference between a family just surviving and a family thriving.”

The Gannett Foundation lists the following recipients of A Community Thrives grants:

  • Brunswick, Georgia Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority receives $100,000 for a Head Start Program and space to allow organizations to help the community.
  • The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis will be receiving $50,000 to help support free speech programs.
  • Waggies in Wilmington will be awarded $25,000 to help open a second kitchen for intellectually impaired adults who bake dog treats.

Leaders from Gannett’s USA TODAY Network, which includes more than 250 news websites in 46 US states, will choose to award community operating grants starting at $2,500. This grant will be given to organizations that work with historically low-resourced or underserved populations.

“Across the country, A Community Thrives grants link USA TODAY Network brands to the communities in which we operate and beyond,” said Sue Madden, director of the Gannett Foundation. This program supports that mission. “Our journalists work daily to help communities thrive.

For the full list of grantees, go to www.gannettfoundation.org/act.

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