The Sandler Family Foundation: Giving During COVID-19

Every morning I wake up with three thoughts: are my family, friends and employees safe and healthy; how do we position our businesses to survive and hopefully return to prosperity in the future; and what can we do to help others at health and economic risk.

I expect many of you wake up with the same three thoughts every day.  The concern for others who we do not see or interact with in our isolated circumstances can easily get lost in the daily focus on family, friends and personal economic issues.  Now more than ever,  we cannot let that happen.   I am grateful that my three adult children won’t let that happen in our family, and insisted that The Sandler Family Foundation quickly move to give during this crisis.

Karna,  Michael and Jake have brought a laser focus to our collective understanding of the perfect storm the most vulnerable in our society face during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It starts with the basics: food, shelter and health care as jobs dry up for those used to living paycheck to paycheck and the government-sponsored safety net becomes increasingly frayed and non-functional.  The usual non-profit and non-government sources of help in a crisis are overwhelmed and underfunded.  Traditional family and community support is difficult to deliver in this period of isolation.

So,  what can we do?  What should we do?

It starts with the basics: food, shelter and health care….

None of us have any expertise or background in public health, so we looked to people who did. We saw the work The Gates Foundation was doing to fight COVID-19. Talk about an organization that’s spent years focusing on public health. They understand the needs and are well-suited to address them. We decided to support the Gates Foundation in their work fighting COVID-19 and funding researchers trying to develop a vaccine.

We also looked to another organization that has even more experience in the public health space. Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) has spent decades tackling every type of health crisis imaginable, and they do so across the globe. While my initial thought was that we should focus locally,  my family strongly encouraged that we not limit our focus to our own backyard.  Once we agreed to donate globally,  we quickly came to the decision to support MSF.  We were gratified that MSF recently decided to focus some of their resources to help our good friends, the Navajo Nation,  which is suffering greatly in this pandemic.

A focus on the basics is also important. We have identified World Central Kitchens as enormously effective in getting food to those most in need.  We are proud to be supporting their efforts. We also donated to the Mid-Atlantic Food Resilience and Action Coalition, which tries to bridge the gaps in our food supply system and simultaneously help communities in need, farmers, and local businesses.

Finally, we determined that it was important in times like these to continue to support organizations making a real difference in our community that may not be COVID-19 specific but that we have long supported because they work on real community problems everyday.  These organizations are finding it very difficult to maintain their funding as donors experience their own financial difficulties or refocus their philanthropy on pandemic-specific causes.  Thus we have doubled down in our support of Philadelphia VIP, where Karna works as Director of Operations, and the Cancer Support Community, where I have been a long-time Board member.

Philadelphia VIP acts as the clearinghouse for pro-bono work in Philadelphia. They connect lawyers who want to volunteer with people who need legal help, be it legal help to establish the small business of their dreams, or to untangle a mess of titles and keep their homes, this organization does it all. Their work helps prevent homelessness, preserve income, support family stability, and grow the local economy. With all the additional uncertainty a crisis like this offers, Philly VIP’s services will be more important than ever. We are proud to support them.

The Cancer Support Community works to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action and sustained by community. They connect patients and families with the education and tools they need to fight cancer and win. I’ve supported the organization for years as a way to honor the memories of close friends and family, including my mother Vivian, who have lost their battles with cancer.

Our family has been very fortunate and it is our responsibility and obligation to do what we can to help others.  Let me tell you, the Zoom call where the four of us decided what organizations to support was the best call I’ve had all month. For a full hour we put aside our own fears and worries – about each other’s health, our businesses, our employees, the global economic system, everything – and talked about some incredible organizations that do really impressive things. Then we agreed we could help them. That felt really good.

If you’re able to give, I encourage you to find an organization you believe in and make a donation. If you can’t, maybe give them a like on Facebook or a mention somewhere. In this pandemic, every thing we do that shows our humanity and connects with others in need matters more than ever.  I promise it will make you feel more empowered and less helpless as we struggle through the long slog ahead to survive and defeat this pandemic.

Stay safe.  Stay strong.  Practice compassion and empathy.

About the Author

Andy Sandler is an entrepreneur, investor, and strategic advisor to the financial services industry.