Freelance grantees cover impacts of COVID-19 on NJ communities

More than a dozen freelancers report on how COVID-19 has affected communities across New Jersey

Journalists at newsrooms of all sizes are being furloughedlaid off, or facing pay cuts while advertising revenue continues to plummet. Smaller news organizations, especially those with few personnel and no significant financial backing, are among those hurting the most.

As Poynter’s Kristen Hare puts it, “It’s getting hard to keep track of the bad news about the news right now.”

As this crisis continues to impact our communities and our partners, the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University launched a handful of new programs intended to help address some of these issues in New Jersey. We created this freelancer fund to support local COVID-19 coverage (we also offered a reporting equipment stipend to help local reporters pay for the tools and tech they need to work during a statewide lockdown).

More about the freelancer fund

This freelancer fund provided micro-grants of $1,000 each to 15 freelancers across New Jersey to help them cover COVID-19 in their communities.

Freelancers who received a $1,000 reporting grant were expected to produce 2–3 stories per grant, depending on the medium used and length/depth of work. They have been and will continue to work with the Center as needed to get those stories published or broadcast by local New Jersey news organizations.

Applicants of color and those serving underrepresented communities were prioritized throughout the entire grantee selection process.

Part of the inspiration for the structure of this fund came from National Geographic’s excellent reporting fund, which sought to support “reporting that covers social, emotional, economic, and equity issues,” and prioritized “those at high risk or hit especially hard by the virus, indigenous communities, immigrant or refugee communities, underserved, urban, rural, elderly populations, and children.”

Click here or scroll down to learn more about the grantees and their work.

The latest from our grantees:

How beauty salons are navigating reopening amid COVID-19

By Arabelle Sicardi
September 25, 2020

We’re six months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Life goes on despite institutions breaking — our hair will get longer and our nails grow and break as we doom-scroll, and our use of face masks have changed our skin-care routines entirely. (Teen Vogue)

Freeholders continue to press for CARES Act funding

By Rikki N. Massand
September 1, 2020

The CARES Act established a $150 billion coronavirus relief fund to cover expenditures incurred during the public health emergency during the period of March 1 through Dec. 30, 2020. Counties with populations over 500,000 were originally earmarked for funds, so Hunterdon was not a recipient based on its lower population. (TAPinto Flemington/Raritan)

Flemington resident, an EMT and firefighter, reflects on COVID-19 pandemic impact and local economic recovery

By Rikki N. Massand
August 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about higher daily stress, new safety measures implemented on-the-fly, challenges for volunteers in many capacities and overarching concerns over resources, future employment and economic stability in western New Jersey. (TAPinto Flemington/Raritan)

Whether remote or in-person, Paterson’s charter schools committed to student learning

By Kimberly Redmond
August 18, 2020

After Gov. Phil Murphy left it up to school districts to determine how they will reopen this fall, at least two charter schools in Paterson have changed their plans and say students will begin the 2020-21 academic year from home. (TAPinto Paterson)

Counting on all: 2020 Census takes to the road

By Mickey Brandt
August 17, 2020

Based on the current U.S. self-response rate of 63.3 percent, the Census Bureau estimates it will need to visit about 56 million addresses to collect responses in person. Up to 500,000 census takers across the country will go door-to-door to assist people in responding. (SNJ Today Newspaper)

Meet the Montgomery Business Association President

By Rikki N. Massand
August 12, 2020

Supporting other local businesses became a way for Skillman businessman James Danner to give back to the community — especially during the pandemic. (The Montgomery News)

For Paterson Arts Exchange the show must go on

By Kimberly Redmond
August 7, 2020

Like all aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Paterson Art Exchange (PAX) to retool what it does. Fortunately, when you’re working with creatives, learning how to pivot is part of any artist’s skill set. (TAPinto Paterson)

A ‘helping hand’ instead of handcuffs in fight against opioids

By Kimberly Redmond
August 3, 2020

Crime hasn’t stopped during the coronavirus outbreak and neither have the law enforcement officers trying to fight it. (TAPinto Paterson)

Pet adoptions on the rise during lockdown

By Mickey Brandt
August 4, 2020

The pandemic has brought hardships like home confinement, unemployment, business failure, and education disruption. Most days, it’s hard to find positive aspects. Cats and dogs are coming out winners, though. (SNJ Today)

Launched by Paterson entrepreneur, Nyah Beauty weathers COVID-19 storm

By Kimberly Redmond
July 24, 2020

When the COVID-19 shutdown threatened the livelihood of her business, La Shonda Tyree did what many entrepreneurs in New Jersey did over the past few months. She pivoted. (TAPinto Paterson)

As demand increases CUMAC continues feeding Passaic County families

By Kimberly Redmond
July 19, 2020

With unemployment rates at a record high in Paterson, demand has skyrocketed at local food pantries as more families struggle to make ends meet. (TAPinto Paterson)

The coming ‘Apocalypse Now’: Eviction moratoriums ending across the country

By Greggory W. Morris
July 14, 2020

“The current COVID-19 housing crisis is the most dire situation for tenants that I have seen in all my years of advocacy,” said New Jersey Tenants Organization President Matt Shapiro. (Medium)

Portions of Relief: More than 100 cars line up 45 minutes before food bank opens each day

By Mickey Brandt
July 13, 2020

As unemployment, hunger, financial distress, and fear have spread rapidly through our community, just like the coronavirus causing much of it, several dozen food distribution centers here have dramatically expanded their reach to provide the portion of relief that comes with a portion of food. (SNJ Today)

Paterson Library gets crafty in effort to keep city kids engaged

By Kimberly Redmond
July 8, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has opened a new chapter for the Paterson Library. Closed to the public since mid-March, the library has spent the last five months reinventing how it can continue serving the community. (TAPinto Paterson)

In the absence of COVID-19 vaccine, Chinese Americans turn to ancient Chinese remedies for treatment

By April Xu
July 4, 2020

U.S. experts still cast doubts on the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine. But with no cure in sight for the coronavirus, Chinese Americans weigh the benefits of dried roots and exotic leaves. (Sing Tao Daily)

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel: Community outreach efforts in Montclair reach tens of thousands of people

By Cindy Pereira
July 3, 2020

The Community Outreach Program for Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has a mission to deliver food donations to ministries within the community and bring food to those who find themselves in a time of need. Even though the church building was closed and combined with another parish, volunteers from OLMC still serve the community together. (TAPinto Montclair)

Long Awaited: Father’s Day at the Veterans Memorial Home was the first day family members could meet since March

By Mickey Brandt
July 1, 2020

There was a lot to celebrate on Father’s Day this year at the Vineland Veterans Memorial Home. Not only were families allowed to visit their loved ones for the first time since mid-March, but also the home has apparently avoided the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak that has ravaged nursing homes throughout the country. (SNJ Today)

Antiracist action: Identifying the great equalizer as well as the inequity

By Rann Miller
June 26, 2020

Research says that teenagers are most at risk when school is interrupted. I know they appear to be more self-sufficient than younger students, but they still need our support — even if they don’t always know it or always want it. (Equity & Access)

‘People want to be with people’: NJ musicians fight to survive in the time of coronavirus

By Cindy Pereira
June 26, 2020

The COVID-19 wave has had an impact on many across the area but one of the most hard-hit groups has been the community of local musicians who count on live venues being open to make a living and sing their songs to the masses. (

I got tested for COVID-19. You should, too.

By Patrick Citrano
June 23, 2020

Testing! Testing! Testing! From the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing has been a conversation across the country. (MyVeronaNJ)

Through Front Porch Project St. Joseph’s nurse finds giving back a snap

By Kimberly Redmond
June 22, 2020

Finding a way to give back during the COVID-19 pandemic for a nurse at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center was a snap — literally. (TAPinto Paterson)

As reopening moves forward, some still concerned with food shopping, takeout

By Cindy Pereira
June 15, 2020

Many Montclair residents are excited to embrace the option of outdoor dining again, available this week at local restaurants. Others are conflicted, with worries about staying safe when buying and ordering food. (Baristanet)

CDC now says wearing masks, especially indoors, can limit community spread of COVID-19

By Mickey Brandt
June 15, 2020

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) inexplicably published guidelines in March discouraging the use of face masks by the public, the recommendation has now changed. In the opinion of most epidemiologists, wearing a mask at work and in public, especially indoors, is a way to limit community spread of the virus. (SNJ Today Newspaper)

A community on the edge: Resort’s undocumented immigrants face the same trials and tribulations with COVID-19, and more

By Bill Barlow
June 10, 2020

For Azel Vasquez and many others in Ocean City’s Spanish-speaking community, there will be no federal stimulus check. He has no access to unemployment insurance or other state or federal programs, even though he pays state and federal taxes. (Ocean City Sentinel)

Food stress, COVID-19, and the Princeton Free Garden Project

By Lawrence Greenberg
June 10, 2020

A brief journalistic documentary about The Princeton Free Garden Project by Lawrence R. Greenberg together with Jessica Riggleman, Norm Verdolina, and Cage Free Projects. The garden shown is in response to food stress caused by COVID-19 and in collaboration with The Princeton Family YMCA. (Vimeo)

How has COVID-19 impacted the vote in Montclair? Baskerville challenges uncounted votes

By Cindy Pereira
June 9, 2020

Covid-19 has affected everything from business to politics. Montclair Mayor-Elect Sean Spiller discusses whether he felt all voices were heard on election day and to hear his thoughts on the efficacy of voting by mail. (TAPinto Montclair)

Amy Coopers are everywhere

By Rann Miller
June 5, 2020

On May 25, Amy Cooper, a white woman, called the police on Christian Cooper (no relation) who was bird-watching in a wooded section of Central Park. Cooper, a black man, had simply asked her to put her dog on a leash. When a police officer in Minneapolis killed George Floyd that same day, it crystalised the danger that behavior like Amy Cooper’s is to black men and women everyday. (The Progressive)

Bracing for onslaught of domestic violence cases, area legal experts say COVID-19 is putting victims at a disadvantage

By Mary Ellen Cagnassola
June 5, 2020

Domestic violence victims are burdened now with even more barriers to justice and protection in the era of COVID-19, and as quarantine rules begin to lift, legal aid experts are anticipating an avalanche of civil cases, both for TRO and divorce filings, quite unlike anything they have seen before. (TAPinto Newark)

Part 2: Paterson Fire department prepared for coronavirus second wave

By Kimberly Redmond
June 2, 2020

As New Jersey gradually reopens from its shutdown, local emergency services won’t be taking their guards down anytime soon – especially with growing predictions of a COVID-19 resurgence this fall or winter. (TAPinto Paterson)

Part 1: When coronavirus gripped their city, Paterson Fire answered the call

By Kimberly Redmond
June 1, 2020

For weeks, first responders have been racing across Paterson to try and save lives in one of the hardest hit cities in the state by the COVID-19 outbreak. During the height of the pandemic in early April, Paterson Fire Department’s EMTs saw about 180 confirmed cases daily. (TAPinto Paterson)

What reopening looks like for four Verona businesses

By Patrick Citrano
May 31, 2020

As the state begins to reopen, the question remains: will consumers in Verona actually begin to go out again? If there is one thing we have seen over the last few months, it has been concern. What can businesses do to alleviate that concern among their customers? (MyVeronaNJ)

Seniors miss a normal end to high school careers

By Bill Barlow
May 21, 2020

Throughout the area and throughout the world, people have had to adjust to a new reality as the novel coronavirus swept across the globe. The virus that causes the severe disease COVID-19 has wreaked economic devastation and brought illness and death. (Ocean City Sentinel)

Will the price of sending remittances go up?

By Gery Vereau-Alvan
May 14, 2020

A report by the World Bank, dated April 22, warns that the decrease in remittances due to COVID-19 could generate a reaction of price increases in the cost of shipping and other areas. (Reporte Hispano)

COVID-19 crisis in Latino restaurants dates back to “deliveries”

By Gery Vereau-Alvan
May 14, 2020

Before the coronavirus, Olegario Villa, owner of El Rey del Taco in Union City, had three employees who did delivered food. But the decrease in orders and the absence of workers due to the coronavirus pandemic means Villa has to deliver all the orders himself. (Reporte Hispano)

For Paterson’s Muslim community, ‘everything has changed’ in observing Ramadan

By Kimberly Redmond
May 11, 2020

With New Jersey under a stay-at-home order until at least June and residents being urged to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, Paterson’s large Muslim community has changed how it’s observing their Ramadan. (TAPinto Paterson)

More about the grantees and their coverage:

Al Alatunji (Ewing, NJ)
Al Harris has been writing for The Nubian News since 2018 under the pen name Al Alatunji. For 11 years, he served as a partisan staff member of the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly. Al’s COVID-19 grant reporting focus will be reporting on the Black and Latinx communities in Greater Trenton.

Bill Barlow (Ocean City, NJ)
I’ve been a community journalist in Cape May County for decades, covering flower shows, politics, boardwalk fires, craft fairs, homicides, whale sightings and more beach replenishment stories than I’d care to remember.

Mickey Brandt (Vineland, NJ)
Mickey Brandt is a southern New Jersey lifer who has been a freelance contributor to The Daily Journal, Press of Atlantic City, Hammonton News, Cumberland News, The Grapevine, and, currently, SNJ Today newspaper. He will use his COVID-19 grant to cover the CDC’s guidelines and recommendations for mask wearing.

Mary Ellen Cagnassola (Fanwood, NJ)
M.E. is a writer and reporter cutting her teeth on New Jersey largest municipality for TAPinto Newark. She was the first reporter in NJ to break enterprise on domestic violence under COVID-19 and plans to use the COVID-19 reporting grant to expand on this multifaceted issue.

Patrick Citrano (Verona, NJ)
Patrick is a Verona native and a senior at the University of Southern California, where he is studying economics with a focus in healthcare. Patrick will use his grant to report on the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on Verona residents.

Lawrence Greenberg (New Hope, PA)
Lawrence Greenberg works on addiction recovery and advocates for public television at Princeton Community Television and Jersey Access Group.  He used his COVID-19 freelance grant to produce a video on the Princeton Free Garden Project and its response to food stress brought on by COVID-19.

Rikki Massand (Belle Mead, NJ)
Author, content strategist and historic preservation activist Rikki N. Massand freelances for multiple New York and New Jersey ‘newszines’ and serves as Associate Editor of his hometown Montgomery News in Somerset County. Rikki plans to use his COVID-19 reporting grant to cover Somerset County.

Rann Miller (Sicklerville, NJ)
Rann Miller is a Ph.D. Candidate at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. His writings on race, education and politics have been featured in the Hechinger Report, Education Week and Black Youth Project. He will be reporting on COVID-19 and education in underserved communities in New Jersey.

Greggory W. Morris (Jersey City, NJ)
Greggory Morris is a tenured Assistant Professor of journalism at Hunter College. He has also taught at Rutgers, New Brunswick and Long Island University Brooklyn. Greggory will use his COVID-19 reporting grant to produce a photojournalism essay.

Cindy Pereira (Montclair, NJ)
As a journalist, Cindy Pereira has published hundreds of articles on everything from celebrity features to community affairs. Cindy’s first COVID-19 grant reporting article was on COVID-19 and its impact on voter turnout in Montclair.

Kimberly Redmond (New Milford, NJ)
Kimberly Redmond is based in Bergen County, where she works with several independent news organizations, including TAPinto Paterson, TAPinto Fair Lawn/Glen Rock, and a few magazines. Her COVID-19 reporting grant has funded a two-part series on Paterson’s fire department and an article about the celebrating Ramadan during COVID-19.

Arabelle Sicardi (Jersey City, NJ)
Previously Beauty Editor at BuzzFeed, Arabelle is now writing a book on beauty and politics for Norton called The House of Beauty and wrote a queer children’s book, called Queer Heroes, out now in bookstore internationally. They will be reporting on COVID-19 and its impact on low-income beauty workers in New Jersey.

Gery Vereau-Alvan (Paterson, NJ)
Gery Vereau has been covering news stories in the United States for 20 years, prior to a 15 year career in Peru. Gery’s COVID-19 reporting grant focus has included two stories published in Reporte Hispano titled “COVID-19 crisis in Latino restaurants dates back to “deliveries” and “Will the price of sending remittances go up?”

Ke (April) Xu (New York NY)
Ke (April) Xu is a full-time reporter covering the Chinese community in New York City for the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily. April’s COVID-19 reporting grant focus will cover the Chinese community in New Jersey.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge FoundationDemocracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit