(CNN) -- When Superstorm Sandy knocked the power out, the cash stopped flowing for thousands of low-wage workers in Greater New York. But a Manhattan-based foundation is providing a port in the storm.
Modest Needs Foundation is offering to pay up to $1,500 to cover rent or mortgage payments for beleaguered restaurant and hotel workers, hairdressers and other people who depend on tip income.
Because restaurants and other small businesses can't operate without power, many people have lost a full week or two of income that employers will not or cannot make up to them, said Dr. Keith P. Taylor, Modest Needs' president and executive director.
"These people are terrified -- terrified -- they're going to be homeless now" because of the storm's disruption, Taylor said. "That's how economic catastrophes start."
The storm relief program launched Monday morning focuses for now on affected people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. By midafternoon Thursday, Modest Needs had approved 20 applications and paid out about $22,000 in grants, Taylor said. There's plenty more where that come from.
"A lot of people who need this the most don't have their power back on yet so they don't know about it yet," Taylor said, but he said he and his small staff are ready for a crush of applications once the word gets out. Modest Needs' goal is to issue a grant within 24 hours of receiving an application, and some are getting done the same day, Taylor said.
"If we can help with that one largest expense, it can free up money so they can take care of some of those other things like food and clothing," he said.
Private donors had contributed $30,000 to the effort by Thursday, he said. The Herb Alpert Foundation and the Zegar Family Foundation are matching the first $150,000 in donations. The program will continue until funding runs out or the need abates, Taylor said.
The first grant recipient, Denise Hill of South Orange, New Jersey, expressed her gratitude in a note posted on Modest Needs' website:
"I have spent many years serving through community outreaches and international missions," the single mother wrote. "Whether I was serving food, passing out books and Bibles, or giving encouraging words and teaching basic life skills, I always accepted their 'thank you' with humility, understanding it was part of my human responsibility to give. In response I would always say, 'I got your back.' I never really understood the depth of gratitude behind some of those 'thank you's' -- until now.
"As a single parent, it is easy to feel as if you are in this thing alone. The weight of the success or failure of your household rests solely on your shoulder. That burden can attempt to consume you at times. During these days that have followed Hurricane Sandy, uncertainty has added to my financial and personal pressure but your help has been a calming voice saying, 'I got your back.' No words could express the depth of my gratitude and what this has meant to my household. I will simply say, 'Thank you.'"
To donate or apply for a grant, visit Modest Needs Foundation at https://www.modestneeds.org/index.asp