The phrase “We’re in this Together” has been bandied about as the result of a number of transformative events throughout history. From natural disasters to national tragedies, the unmistakable human instinct to coalesce, sacrifice and help one another lays bare the nature of community in the face of imminent crisis. Like few moments in history, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the interconnected nature of our world. For the communities across our area the spread of coronavirus has exacted the kind of solidarity that has helped to save lives and overcome devastating socio-economic impacts. Millerton, NY’s North East Community Center (NECC), an organization established to respond to the lack of social support services for Millerton and North East residents, has shown an incredibly high adaptability over the past four months. When it became painfully apparent that older residents would no longer be safe outside of their homes, the NECC adapted its transportation service in order to deliver food and supplies to seniors. As the organization’s very first program that has been integral for 30 years, transportation became an extraordinarily important tool during the crisis.
In just a two week period, and in the midst of the pandemic, the NECC also successfully implemented a new food and supply pantry program. A program the organization was unsure if people needed just a year prior. Over the past four months they have raised over $80,000 with every dollar going toward food and supplies which, in turn, will be going back out to people of the community. “We have experienced a fully interconnected network of loving support throughout this crisis,” says Christine Sergent, Executive Director of the NECC reflecting on the incredible communal response. “If it wasn’t for the people who knew they could trust us and come to us in their hour of need, if it wasn’t for the volunteer staff making sacrifices without hesitation and our donors’ philanthropy despite financial uncertainty, I’m not sure we would be in the fortunate position we are at this moment.” Despite the near magical nature of community cohesion that has helped secure the safety net the NECC provides for local families, the time of change has not yet come to an end, and this summer will still look a bit different for the venerable organization.
This year, in light of social distancing guidelines, the NECC’s Chef and Farmer Brunch, a traditionally live event held at the end of July and one that celebrates local food and agriculture across the area, will instead be a month-long event held in a digital format for the first time ever. In lieu of one titular afternoon featuring a smorgasbord of local food cooked by renowned local chefs, taste testings, auctions and honorees including both community members and clients, the NECC has launched a special campaign to celebrate community leaders, NECC members and donors and the stories they share. “I think everyone knows that we belong to a very interesting community,” says Christine. “We have an eclectic mix of visitors from different states as well as business owners, residents and those who are less fortunate but still work hard each day to feed their families. There are are many services that we provide that are not funded by grants, and we typically rely on our Chef and Farmer Brunch to help continue to support this unique mix of folks.”
Despite the massively generous $80,000 fundraising effort, and the fortuitous arrival of a PPP loan which played a critical role in keeping the NECC staffed, much of the NECC’s future funding remains in uncertain jeopardy. “National statistics tell us that around 30% of nonprofits are in danger of not surviving the end of the year,” says Christine. “Hudson Valley surveys show that number could be as high as 50%.” Despite the ominous figures, Christine, her staff and the Board of Directors at the NECC have worked tirelessly to strengthen the organization’s capacity over the last three years. “Our hard work, as well as the community’s support, have been the main reasons why we were able to keep our doors open after the schools closed and continue transportation services.” The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects across the state means it remains uncertain if government funding may need to be rerouted in the near future. As a result, the NECC’s campaign this year for the digital Chef and Farmer Brunch will include a fundraising goal of $200,000. The organization will forgo seeking sponsorships this year because, as Christine puts it, “businesses are struggling as it is.” The Chef and Farmer Brunch campaign will instead rely primarily on the donations of the surrounding community in what is coincidentally the brunch’s tenth anniversary.
The Chef and Farmer Brunch began with what was then a small group of around 30 community members meeting on the lawn of a local restaurant on Main Street. Ten years later, the event has grown so much that it regularly gathers over 350 people and has previously raised as much as $285,000 for the NECC. “This year’s event is more about ensuring that we can simply continue serving our community in the immediate future and sort out which programs we will be able to preserve if funding streams are jeopardized,” says Christine. Beginning on Friday June, 26th, and as part of the July campaign, each week the NECC will send out a new digital release online featuring stories about the NECC’s importance to the surrounding community. Leading up to July 26th when the organization will organize a digital thank you to all of its supporters. From its inception as a catalyst to create partnerships to address community needs, the NECC has remained committed to understanding the needs of the individuals it serves, providing or working collaboratively with community partners to provide needed programs and services to enhance engagement and understanding among all community members. This year, its most anticipated event will serve as the engine that will power the NECC through an uncertain future — determined to be there for friends and neighbors for decades to come.
To find out more about this year’s Chef & Farmer Brunch or to donate click here