Philly foundations launch $6.5M COVID-19 emergency fund for local nonprofits

The Philadelphia Foundation and the United Way lead a multi-million dollar effort to release resources for at-risk populations.

People line up for a meal in Pennypacker Park across from the Family Court building on Vine Street. (Emma Lee for WHYY)

People line up for a meal in Pennypacker Park across from the Family Court building on Vine Street. (Emma Lee for WHYY)

Philadelphia officials announced on Thursday a $6.5M regional emergency fund for the city and surrounding counties in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The City of Philadelphia has partnered with major philanthropic foundations to launch the PHL COVID-19 Fund to quickly assemble and distribute resources to organizations serving the most at-risk populations during the viral outbreak.

“The pandemic is placing extraordinary stress on our city and region, particularly on already strained community organizations that help our most vulnerable residents, and we must work urgently to provide them with greater financial support,” Mayor Jim Kenney said during a Thursday press conference. “This is an unprecedented time demanding an unparalleled unified response.”

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Housed at the Philadelphia Foundation, the fund is intended for nonprofit organizations that primarily serve senior citizens, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness and those who are economically disadvantaged.

These grants will allow the organizations to continue providing community safety nets such as food pantries and health services, as well as preparedness and protection services, such as hygiene supplies and access to accurate information.

“We’re looking at the nonprofit organization serving those audiences,” said Diane Melley, the Philadelphia Foundation’s director of corporate partnerships. “Maybe delivering meals to the elderly, or providing hygiene products like soap and toilet paper to those who may not be able to afford at this point.”


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As the coronavirus emergency evolves over time, the target recipients of the fund’s resources may change, Melley said.

Other lead organizations include the United Way of Greater Philadelphia, the William Penn Foundation and the Lenfest Foundation. There are more than 25 other foundations and corporations involved in the fund. The $6.5 million is expected to grow as more contributors add to it.

“Many of our nonprofits are worried they can’t perform their mission if they can’t meet payroll, pay their rent, or need to lay off staff,” Kenney said. “Mission-driven leaders and staff are needed more now, in a crisis, not less or it will be devastating.”

The idea for the fund was hatched on Monday with the purpose of assembling a broad swath of partnerships that could pool money and distribute it fast. Melley said there will be a simplified and expedited application process overseen by a committee co-chaired by the Philadelphia Foundation’s CEO Pedro Ramos and the United Way CEO Bill Golderer. Funding is expected to be released to nonprofits in about two weeks.

The fund’s leaders said the first phase focused on getting funds out to organizations on the front lines working with vulnerable populations. Nonprofits seeking support in the Philadelphia region can go to the PHL COVID-19 Fund website and fill out a request form.

“Our social compact as Philadelphians, as Americans, as neighbors has never been more important,” Ramos said. “While our individual well-being depends on social distancing, we can still come together by practicing social generosity.”

Aside from the PHL COVD-19 Fund, the philanthropic community has been finding ways to respond to the pandemic. Melley said many foundations have been streamlining their existing modes of charitable giving. That means pre-approving previous recipients and waiving application processes to speed up the release of money.

“Everyone is pulling on the oars together to say, ‘How do we get resources that may not have been going into the community right away, but we know we have in our budgets and we intended to give?’ Let’s get that out as quickly as possible,” Melley said.

WHYY’s Nina Feldman contributed reporting.

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