Vinnie Brunetti is the true definition of a "Jersey Guy" and he's doing what Jersey guys do. We help each other.

With all these small Jersey businesses struggling, Brunetti, whose family moved to Manalapan from Brooklyn all those years ago and now lives in Flemington, has set up NJ4NJ, which is a nonprofit where businesses can either apply for financial help or contribute to other businesses in need.

Brunelli came on my show Monday night, April 5, and told me all about the how he came up with the idea.

Listen to that interview:

You can check out the text conversation we had below as well.

How did you come up with this idea?

"Around Christmas of 2020, I overheard some families discussing the grave economic issues they were having and how this holiday season was going to be especially tough on them because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It bothered me to hear that commentary and I thought, how I can possibly help? There were some old friends I knew from Manalapan that did charity work over Thanksgiving so I reached out to them to ask if they knew of any families that needed food, money, etc. for the holidays. They provided me with a number of families that needed assistance, so I personally drove house to house dropping off both groceries and money. I received another call on Christmas Eve that there was a woman in Freehold that needed money for her medication. I drove down later that morning and the woman had an issue with her eyesight and she struggled to look at me, and asked, who are you? I told her i was a friend of a friend and I was here to help her get her medication. She immediately hugged me and thanked me. I broke down as I left her apartment to think how grateful she was for such a little compassion and a small financial gift from a complete stranger.

Those few days around the holidays were a gift and a powerful lesson to me personally. While it hit me hard to see people struggling like they were, it also provided me with an opportunity to see how much impact I could have through simple small gestures, a little kindness and most important during the pandemic, just providing some basic levels of human interaction (and yes, I did hug people).

I became consumed by the positive feelings I obtained through the holiday season and thought further about how I might make a larger impact for the citizens of NJ who were hurting. I saw Dave Portnoy do something similar with his amazing Barstool Fund nationally and thought, maybe we could do something similar to help small businesses and their employees, but just within NJ? So, I ran the idea by a few talented and trusted friends and they all thought it was a great idea, even though we had never started an official charitable organization before. So we all unanimously voted to begin the significant groundwork required to start NJ4NJ."

How has it been going so far?

"Considering the legwork needed in this day and age to start a charity – from the legal work, application rules, the 501c3 designation, to building a website and a social media campaign, I’m pleased that we are established and finally in a position to hand out money to businesses, but I’m actually a little surprised we don’t have more applications. We simply need more awareness and more reach, and that’s why I am beyond grateful to be on your show today. Personally, I think small business owners have become wary of others looking to take advantage of the situation during COVID19 rather than help. I’ve called several businesses who hang up on me thinking we’re a scam or something, which is a little surprising. We also feel that some small businesses, especially restaurants, are maybe afraid to admit they need help, lest it create a negative buzz that could further scare away customers.

We would have hoped for more donations at this point, but also feel that despite the many difficulties presented by COVID19, the people of New Jersey have a kind and generous nature and perhaps they are waiting for us to “put our money where our mouth is” and actually start funding businesses before helping us out. That is our sincere hope and that is why we are so excited to have funded our second NJ small business as of last Friday, with more to come. But again, we just need more awareness and reach and so we urge all your listeners to spread the word about NJ4NJ. And PLEASE keep the applications coming, as I can assure you we take them seriously on a case by case basis."

Some of the stories of these struggling businesses are heartbreaking

"Our last business that we funded (Echelon Studio in Flemington) was started by a young lady Norma who put all her money into the business. The business was doing well prior to the pandemic and so even though she was pregnant at the time, she decided to open another location. Shortly thereafter, the pandemic hit and the business stopped altogether and she had two locations that she was trying to support.  The situation became dire, as she was unable to get further funding through her bank. She was trying to generate income by driving products to people's homes, which wasn't cutting it. I could feel the strain that she must have been going through, as I too experienced that with my business for a period when the pandemic first hit. She finally received some funding, but not enough. Her story hit home with us at NJ4NJ, so we were proud to recently lend a hand to support her business."

What's the end game for Brunetti and NJ4NJ?

"Well, right now, we're focused on helping NJ small businesses until this awful pandemic ends and life goes back to some semblance of “normal”. Until then, there is a lot to do and we’re not sure if the end game is firmly in sight. But if we can continue to grow NJ4NJ, we want to look at helping citizens “post-pandemic” – especially kids that have experienced all sorts of psychological trauma resulting from in-person educational learning gaps and overall child/teen life disruption due to this tragic once in a generation event. I didn't really understand until more recently the mental anguish that these poor kids must be going through to be so separated from their friends and filled with anxiety. So, I’m trying to figure out how we can help the kids get back to some semblance of normalcy, which is critical to me as a father of three daughters, aged 19, 18 and 15. But in the meantime, we are committed to helping business owners in the state of NJ stay afloat."

To apply for or contribute to NJ4NJ click here.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Steve Trevelise. Any opinions expressed are Steve's own. Steve Trevelise is on New Jersey 101.5 Monday-Thursday from 7pm-11pm. Follow him on Twitter @realstevetrev.

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