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Jessica Seinfeld, second from right, and her Good+ team

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The Good Works of Good+

From anti-poverty programs to child-support reform

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When we first spoke with Jessica Seinfeld about her Good+Foundation, our new #VBGivesBack partner, the dire reality of COVID-19 had just set in. The conversation quickly zeroed in on the very urgent needs of families in poverty during this time—and how Good+ was making a difference. The numbers speak for themselves: In March alone, the nonprofit donated $1.2 million worth of goods, including 492,709 diapers, 5,097 packs of wipes and 276 thermometers—that's almost 2.5 times more than a typical monthly donation.

“When the COVID-19 outbreak began to escalate, we knew there was no one better to turn to than Good+ to get help where it is needed most," says Veronica Miele Beard and Veronica Swanson Beard, both of whom have been deeply involved with the organization for over a decade (the latter also sits on the board). "We’re in awe of Jessica Seinfeld for being so ahead of her time in addressing the core needs of low-income fathers, mothers and caregivers."

Ahead of her time, indeed. Good+ has proven itself a success in dealing with this current crisis because, well, this is what they do year-round. "We're doing what we've always been doing. It is harder and much more urgent now," explains Seinfeld. “Our mission hasn’t changed; this is what we are equipped to do.” The pandemic has only magnified the usual issues.

So, today, we're taking a deeper dive and getting to know Good+, formerly known as Baby Buggy, and the rest of its good works, in a second sit-down with Seinfeld. She tells us about the initial spark (mom, a social worker, plays a role) and shares inspiring stories of lives changed for the better.

Graduation Day for the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, photograph via @goodplusfdn

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Q&A

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What was the inspiration behind Good+?
I started Good+ in 2001 after our daughter Sascha was born. I was fortunate to have all the support I did, but my thoughts were on those who don’t. It is very difficult to afford everything it takes to raise a baby and I wanted to help those who were struggling. Initially Good+ was a community drive to get things like cribs, diapers and strollers into the hands of new parents who didn’t have resources. We’ve since evolved to pair these items with services, like healthy relationships and parenting classes, and job training, so that parents have the tangible incentives to stick with life-changing programs. We want parents to get the well-rounded support they need to not just to rise out of poverty but to thrive.
After nearly two decades, I’m still involved in the day-to-day operations and continuing to grow the organization’s impact.

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What led you down the philanthropic path and, more specifically, to focus on family poverty?
My mom is a social worker; I was always aware of the struggles many families face. When I was in college, I interned at the probation and parole office and had a caseload of women. Some of these women were young mothers around my age who had been imprisoned for low-risk crime. It seemed that many of their crimes arose out of poverty and a desire to take care of their families—stealing food or selling drugs so they could provide for their children. When I had my own child, without financial stress, I was motivated to help other people by creating a pipeline between those who had access and those who didn't.

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Why did you change the name from Baby Buggy to Good+?
Early on, it became clear that we would outgrow our name. We started as an organization that served the needs of babies, but we quickly learned that to make life better for babies, you have to provide services for the whole family. The rebranding to Good+Foundation reflects that growth.
Pairing our “goods” with our partner’s services is the idea behind the growth to becoming Good+. We feel that this combination makes a bigger difference for everyone in the equation: fathers, mothers, caregivers and children, as well as our service partners. Together with our partners, we help keep parents motivated and engaged in meeting goals, such as completing a parenting class, building job and life skills or securing better housing.

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What kind of support and programming does Good+ provide?
Good+ donates to a select group of social service partners that align with one or more of our three focus areas: Engaging Fathers, Supporting Mothers and Investing in Early Childhood Education. Our donations are based on immediate needs identified through a request system and range from clothes, diapers and toys to car seats, cribs and high chairs. Our partners have overwhelmingly told us that these donations help to improve participation and attendance in programs around continuing education, healthy relationships and more.
To help our partners better serve their clients, we have also recently begun offering training and professional development covering topics including father engagement and addressing mental health and trauma.

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Jessica Seinfeld at her first drive in 2001

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Can you tell us about Good+’s increased focus on fathers?
Good+ has taken a close look at father absence and its effect on children and families. A father does not have to live in the home to benefit his child; acting as an engaged co-parent benefits the mom and the child. Studies have consistently shown the importance of a father in a child’s life. More than a quarter of children in the United States live without a father in the home. Not having a father present creates worse outcomes for children. PERIOD. Not having a father in his life puts a boy at greater risk of committing crime and going to prison. It makes kids two times more likely to drop out of school. Despite this data, our laws and actions and priorities all indicate that we haven’t cared enough to do anything about it.
In my mind, focusing on supporting fathers, in addition to mothers, as valuable contributors to the family is the most important work we’ve done. Because of years of working to ensure that our partners include fathers in their programming, we know that during this crisis we are helping mothers AND fathers in order to lift up families. When you improve support for fathers, you strengthen the family and improve the outcome for children.

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What is the Good+ reach and impact?
In 2019, Good+ donated 1.6 million items worth more than $6 million, including more than 1.2 million diapers and more than 1,300 strollers. While the vast majority goes to our partners in NYC and LA, we also donate to a targeted group of programs in other high-poverty cities like Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and Washington D.C.
Nationally, we served approximately 579,000 families with these items last year, but we never judge our success by this measure. Good+ will always choose a deeper investment in one family achieving its goals rather than define the number of families we serve as a goal.

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Any anecdotes to share of the impact you've made?
There are so many stories. One that demonstrates the impact of Good+: well is about this father who was encouraged to complete a parenting class and attempt to secure employment in preparation for the arrival of his next child. He was initially resistant but incentives from Good+ kept him coming back and boosted his motivation .
Once he completed the program, he enrolled in security guard training and later obtained a full-time job. But before that, he received the donations and materials he really needed for his kids—a front carrier, newborn essentials and diapers—that he couldn't afford. When he gave these items to the mother, she loved the fact that he was able to provide for his family and that he was working hard to become a responsible co-parent. As a result, they began to reconcile their relationship and figure out how to co-parent their children.
These stories validate our focus on fatherhood. When we give dads the tools to be active and healthy participants in family life, mothers and children feel the benefits as well.

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How has Good+ grown through the years?
In 2019, we had a record year of $10.6m in financial and product donations. That is such a leap from where we started almost 20 years ago.

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Last but not least—as a mom, what advice do you have to give to encourage philanthropy and volunteerism in your children?
I believe in modeling; I don't believe in nagging. I've found that, with my own kids, seeing me spend time working on behalf of the underserved has made them more compassionate, global citizens. I hope one day they dedicate their lives—whether in small ways or large—to public service.

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