Executive Director of Riverlife, Lisa Schroeder. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Pittsburgh foundations and other philanthropic institutions have joined forces with impressive speed, to provide $4 million to create an Emergency Action Fund  — and as much as $6 million in coordinated efforts to assist those most vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Contributors expect to make the first round of grants in the next several weeks.

Preference will be given to those most affected by the negative effects of curtailment of daily economic activities, school operations, transportation options, daycare services and a range of government programs, says The Pittsburgh Foundation in a statement.

The four foundations — The Heinz Endowments, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Pittsburgh Foundation and Hillman Family Foundations have organized to shorten internal approval processes and make grants quickly.

Funders are reviewing the results of a community survey of 1,600 nonprofits conducted last week through the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania in conjunction with its 211 help line. Needs also are being assessed in consultation with the Allegheny County Health Department and the Department of Human Services.

The Emergency Action Fund will be held at The Pittsburgh Foundation, which is waiving all credit card and management fees on individual donations. Donations can be made here.

The first phase of the rapid response grants will address:

  • The economic impact of reduced and lost work due to the coronavirus outbreak;
  • Immediate needs of economically vulnerable populations caused by closures and cancellations related to COVID-19;
  • Increased demand for medical information and support for health care;
  • Communications and research support to better assess needs and improve information flow for the region’s most vulnerable residents.

“We are in uncharted territory gauging the full societal harm that will be caused by the COVID-19 virus, and by the necessary suspension of most activities of daily life across our region to combat it,” said Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder and United Way President and CEO Bobbi Watt Geer in a joint statement. “We hope that the public will donate generously to this effort.

“The establishment of the Emergency Action Fund is the first step from our sector in developing a recovery plan for the long term. Philanthropic organizations in our region have a wide range of strategies and values that govern their giving, but through this fund, we come together as one, with one goal: ensuring rapid and effective assistance for the most vulnerable and other COVID-19 response needs as they arise.”

The heads of the largest foundations in the region — Schroeder, along with Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments; Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation and David Roger, president of the Hillman Family Foundations — said that additional grant-making by the foundations outside of the Emergency Action Fund will happen through their boards and in alignment with their current areas of focus.

Schroeder also said that the contributions represent a first round of investment with a plan to review conditions on a regular basis to determine future commitments.

“The launch of this emergency fund is only the beginning with initial commitments by Pittsburgh’s philanthropic cohort designed to help with immediate and urgent need,” said Oliphant. “We will continue to monitor the situation and we will respond as the situation develops.”

Roger of the Hillman Family Foundations said, “We wanted to act quickly to make funds available and are committed to working closely with our community partners to find creative ways to get through this crisis. Clearly, we’re all very concerned about all of the unknowns at this time, but we wanted to assure our nonprofit partners we will do everything we can to help them with needed support in this very difficult situation.”

The Pittsburgh Foundation will administer grants in partnership with leaders of the Allegheny Department of Human Services, the County Health Department, the United Way and foundations. Look for more details on the grant-making process as they are released and posted on The Pittsburgh Foundation website in the next few days.

In a joint statement, philanthropic leaders lauded Gov. Tom Wolf, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and the board and staff of the County Health Department. “Their quick action, attention to science and facts, transparency with the public and moral leadership has made us far safer and better positioned for recovery than we would be otherwise,” group members stated. “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

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