Donor Briefing: Give a Person the Fish

The Community Foundation and United Way of Greater New Haven co-hosted a discussion with local experts on meeting basic needs and the role of philanthropy.

Meeting Basic Needs and the Role of Philanthropy

Panelists (L-R) Joanne Goldblum, Rev. Bonita Grubbs, Steve Werlin. Photo Kathleen Cei

"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." This ancient proverb still guides much of the funding and delivery of the basic needs social safety net. But does it set up a false choice? How could the community work better to meet the needs of the most vulnerable among us?

On March 7, 2019, The Foundation hosted a discussion on the current state of basic needs in Greater New Haven with a panel including Joanne Goldblum (CEO, National Diaper Bank Network), Rev. Bonita Grubbs (Executive Director, Christian Community Action), and Steve Werlin (Executive Director, Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen); with moderator Jennifer Heath (President and CEO, United Way of Greater New Haven at the New Haven Free Public Library.

What We Heard

Connecticut Families Are Struggling

  • Many families must prioritize whether they want food, electricity or basic needs such as diapers or feminine hygiene products each month.
  • Living in poverty creates an environment that is difficult to thrive in; this level of stress can carry over from childhood into adulthood.
  • One in four New Haven residents lives at or below the federal poverty line; one in five experiences food insecurity.

Basic Needs Organizations Are Underfunded

  • The governmental "social safety net" does not fully address the basic needs of individuals living below the poverty line.
  • Private philanthropy contributes less to basic needs as compared to other areas such as education, health and the arts.
  • Issues of equity and access have impacted the playing field; organizations don't have the funding and resources needed to fully meet the needs of all they hope to reach.

Beyond Basic Needs

  • Many organizations provide services that go beyond basic needs; some provide food service while also connecting people to other services such as health screenings, housing and assistance benefits.
  • "... add a fishery," said panelist Rev. Grubbs, emphasizing the importance of providing equal access for success beyond the proverb of teaching a man to fish.
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) rewards employment by providing an average of $3,000 in wage subsidies; in 2016 that lifted 5.8 million people out of poverty.

What We Can Do

Understand the Whole Picture

  • Check out the SNAP Challenge that members of Congress, governors and celebrities have taken! Develop a greater understanding for what it's like to survive on a low and restricted budget for a weeks.
  • Enhance empathy and connect with people receiving basic needs services on a human level.
  • Promote networking among basic needs organizations so comprehensive support services are available at all locations to individuals seeking them.

Give Your Support

  • Make a donation or volunteer your time to a basic needs organization. Visit for a list of local nonprofits.
    Consider making a provision in your will or creating a permanent endowment during your lifetime that will support basic needs organizations in perpetuity. For more information, contact Sharon Cappetta.
  • Amplify your 2019 donation(s) by giving during The Great Give® - May 1-2. Liberty Bank Foundation is offering an incentive for gifts made to participating basic needs organizations between 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m on May 2. Alternatively, you may wish to create your own matching gifts prize for one or more basic needs organizations. For more information, contact Jackie Downing.

Additional Links & Resources

About The Foundation's Donor Briefing Series

Our ongoing Donor Briefing series invites guest experts to discuss urgent issues affecting us locally and nationally and to inform us about what can be done. Contact us to learn more.