Running a non-profit during the pandemic


By: Lucy Langley

This September 11th issue of the Greenwich Sentinel marks 19 years since 9/11. It also marks six months since the WHO officially announced a worldwide pandemic. Both events have changed our lives and the world in which we live. The permanent changes wrought by COVID-19 will likely not be fully known for quite some time to come. That it has already caused huge changes is all too evident in the ”new normal” that is now the landscape of our lives.

At first, as businesses and schools closed, and we went into lockdown, it was not very different for The Undies Project as Laura and I already worked from home. We had no idea how we were going to have to adjust and adapt to working under COVID-19 in the coming months.

Laura and I established The Undies Project in 2015 as a result of identifying that underwear is the most under-donated item of clothing, but the most needed. For those who are homeless, living in shelters or on low incomes, new underwear not only provides hygiene and physical comfort but also dignity and self-esteem. For many underwear is a necessity, not a luxury. The mission of The Undies Project is to provide new underwear to men, women and children in need to improve their lives.

We had already decided to host an online fundraiser in April. The timing could not have been more fortunate. As people were being furloughed and losing their jobs, there was a rapidly growing need, yet, no in-person donation drives could take place. Thankfully, as the pandemic worsened, we were in a good position to extend the campaign deadline. With the additional monies raised, we were able to place a larger wholesale order of underwear.

COVID-19 had other plans for us though. What soon became apparent was that half of the 25 agencies we support were no longer able to accept clothing donations for the time being. On top of that, we were unable to have volunteers come to our homes to help process the order. The information about what was, and what wasn’t, safe to do changed weekly, if not daily.

Fortunately, we had almost completed our Mardi “Bra” drive at the end of February/early March, had collected most of the donations of new and gently used bras and been able to get the items out before the lockdown. As the days went by it became apparent however that it would be unlikely that we could hold our May “Undie Sundays” collection drive through local houses of worship. This was a blow as in recent years “Undie Sundays” have helped fill the donations gap during that time of year.

As time went on and we got used to the “new normal” we felt we could purchase a reduced quantity of underwear and handle it with just two volunteers practicing self-distancing and using protective gear. We would have those organizations still accepting donations either pick up curbside or we would drop off curbside. We managed to get over 16,800 pairs of underwear out to those in need.

And then came the next biggest decision that we had not anticipated: we realized that it would be a long time before there was a return to normalcy. Should we pivot our annual fundraiser, Cocktails & Comedy, to virtual, or not hold the event at all? We very quickly decided that the latter was not an option. Our mission is too important not to hold it. Cocktails & Comedy accounts for over 80% of our annual fundraising income. Without these funds, our 25 partner organizations would be sorely lacking in underwear donations for the rest of the year, and even more organizations are now needing our help.

In past years our “live” event has been an evening of comedy and cocktails, accompanied by passed hors d’oeuvres, live music and a vibrant silent auction. We quickly decided to go virtual, another steep learning curve for us, as for non-profits everywhere. We will have a fabulous virtual program with hilarious comics Jane Condon and Kelly MacFarland, a superb online auction and delicious food that can be pre-ordered from Aux Délices.

We are so thankful for event sponsorship by First Bank of Greenwich, Aux Délices and Katie Creighton Landscape Designs. It is heart-warming that local businesses, despite hurting from COVID-19, are so willing to support local charities like us and donate to our online silent auction. Without their support, we would not be able to continue to fulfill our mission. We thank them all from the bottom of our hearts.

We invite you to “Laugh for a Cause” and join us on Saturday, October 10th at 7 pm from the comfort of your home.

Laughter is the food of life!

Details and tickets at undiesproject20.givesmart.com. For more information email us at info@theundiesproject.org.