Pittsburgh foundations set up $10 million Emergency Action Fund to provide relief to those most affected by COVID-19 | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh foundations set up $10 million Emergency Action Fund to provide relief to those most affected by COVID-19

As the COVID-19 virus pandemic no sign of letting up anytime soon, the region’s largest foundations are stepping in to support those hardest hit.

The Pittsburgh Foundation is heading up the Emergency Action Fund to “lessen the damaging effects of the COVID-19 virus on residents, especially the most vulnerable.” Created in partnership with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Heinz Endowments, the Richard King Mellon Foundation, and the Hillman Family Foundations, the fund will act as a rapid response to the crisis by providing grants to organizations “on the front lines of providing essential human services, health care support and economic assistance.”

So far, $4 million was contributed to create the fund, with an additional $6 million being given in “aligned, coordinated efforts.” The first phase of the grants will address economic impact resulting from lost work, closures, or cancellations related to COVID-19, as well as increased demand for medical information and support for health care.


“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,” said David Roger, president of The Hillman Family Foundations. “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.”

Fund leaders will determine who receives grants by consulting with the Allegheny County Health Department and the Department of Human Services, and by reviewing the results of a community survey of 1,600 nonprofits conducted recently through the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania in conjunction with its 211 help-line. The Pittsburgh Foundation will administer grants in partnership with leaders of the Allegheny Department of Human Services, the County Health Department, and the United Way and foundations.

More details on the grant-making process will be released publicly on The Pittsburgh Foundation website in the next few days, with the first round of grants being given out in the over several weeks.

The public is also encouraged to give, and all credit card and management fees will be waived on individual donations.


Before confirmed cases of COVID-19 patients had been reported in the region (there are now seven, including some in Pittsburgh), the last week has seen the mass closure of businesses, schools, and gathering places like public libraries and museums, as well as a pause on religious services. Area colleges and universities have either canceled classes or moved them online.

Dozens of events have been canceled, postponed or rescheduled after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called on residents to avoid crowds of 250 or more. State leaders have now added to that by implementing a shutdown of any “non-essential business activity” in an advanced effort to keep the virus from spreading. As a result, restaurants and bars, fitness centers, movie theaters, retail stores, and even liquor stores have closed, leaving many hourly-wage employees vulnerable.

“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,” says 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.”

This adds to other local efforts to support those struggling with losing financial support or other types of services. Right now, the Pittsburgh Virtual Tip Jar is asking for contributions to help affected service workers, while various support groups are hosting remote support group meetings for anyone struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, or with mental health issues.

Schroeder adds that the contributions “represent a first round of investment with a plan to review conditions on a regular basis to determine future commitments.” The organizations believe the Emergency Action Fund marks the first step from in developing a long-term recovery plan for the region after the crisis has slowed.


“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,” says Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant. “We will continue to monitor the situation and we will respond as the situation develops.”

Individual donations can be made online or by check. Please make the check out to "The Pittsburgh Foundation" and mail to The Pittsburgh Foundation, 5 PPG Place, Suite 250, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Include a reference of "Emergency Action Fund" in the memo line.

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