Ellen DeGeneres Secures $50k Donation to School in Need

McKinley School, in North Bergen, New Jersey, worked all February on their “Read Across America” campaign, which included a social media blitz and a number of YouTube videos. The school put in a good effort to get talk show celebrity Ellen DeGeneres to contribute to the campaign by reading aloud on video.

Unfortunately, DeGeneres declined to visit the school and participate. But she didn’t simply ignore their pleas—far from it.

In April, two McKinley teachers were flown from New Jersey to Los Angeles to be on the Ellen Show. During the April 20th taping, DeGeneres announced she had a surprise, and brought the teachers on stage. Joined by a livestream of their entire student body on the big screen, she announced that she had arranged a $25,000 donation from Walmart and the charity Feeding America.

Though the students only asked her to participate in their literary event, DeGeneres did enough research into the school to learn that many students struggled with food insecurity. According to a report by a NJ children’s advocacy group, approximately two-thirds of all students in North Bergen are eligible for subsidized lunch and breakfast, but fewer than a third of those students take those benefits. The generous donation will help ensure that even students who don’t receive assistance will get breakfast every morning.

In New Jersey, more than half a million students live in low-income households, qualifying for at-school free or reduced-price meals. In recent years, a number of new bills and measures have expanded the programs offered to them, following a series of studies in 2011 that indicated that eating breakfast regularly was linked to higher attendance and graduation rates. Since implementing the new programs, New Jersey has seen their graduation rate for low-income students climb from 71 to 82 percent, a very impressive rise.

Organizations Resources

Sandy Relief Foundation Facing Scrutiny

Nearly four months after Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, one major charity is having its operations and motives questioned. The Sandy Relief Foundation raised about $1 million in the wake of the storm, but according to an investigation by the Asbury Park Press, few of those funds have been released. It’s also not a tax-exempt organization, as its website claims.

The Sandy Relief Foundation is run by John Sandberg and his girlfriend, Christina Terraccino. Sandberg says he began planning for the foundation just before Sandy hit New Jersey and records indicate that the two filed paperwork to incorporate the foundation as a nonprofit corporation in New Jersey on October 30, 2012.

Though it’s not officially tax exempt, the two founders claim that tax exemptions can be filed retroactively once they gain official nonprofit status. The couple is getting help on their IRS application from Melanie Swift, who is a nonprofit expert. She said she had told the two to take down the “tax-exempt” status claim previously.

According to Sandberg, the delay in funds distribution is due to a large backlog of applicants. He says those on the waiting list should receive gift cards within 30 days if they qualify for aid.

There are some who have already received aid from the Foundation, such as Michael Armstrong, who says he was given two gift cards to Lowe’s totaling $500.
They were gracious enough to stop in the Highlands and they checked everything out and they gave us gift cards,” he said.

But because the foundation isn’t officially registered in New Jersey—or any other state—it technically isn’t supposed to be allowed to fund raise there. Many are beginning to question the operations of the organization as a whole. A few other details uncovered by the Asbury Park Press make Sandberg seem less than trustworthy. He never received a degree from Steton Hall University (as the resume claims he did) and two of the foundations corporate sponsors say they’re not affiliated with the charity at all.

The Sandy Relief Foundation’s website claims that it was founded “by the victoms for the victims” of the storm. “We decided to take it upon ourselves to bring attention to our neighbors in need of immediate relief. With no funding, and limited resources we started our journey to raise donation to bring necessary supplies to local shelters, restore power, clean up debris, and rebuild communities,” it reads. “With an anticipated 6-8 year recovery and 2 year clean up this will not be a sprint, it will be a marathon.”