Community Foundation of Westmoreland County

$8.3 million in grants going to COVID-19 responseEmergency Action Fund aids operations, essential services

Emergency Action Fund aids operations, essential services

Help for nonprofits delivering child care, community health, food, shelter, arts

PITTSBURGH, May 5, 2020 – A $300,000 grant to Trying Together, a nonprofit focused on early childhood, to help essential service workers with child care needs; $25,000 to the Knead Community Café in Westmoreland County to continue offering fresh, locally-sourced meals for take-out and to meet payroll; $25,000 to 1Nation to help young Black males in grades K-12 adapt to classroom instruction over the internet; $102,000 to Allegheny County’s Kane Community Living Center to enable residents to tele-conference for medical consults and communicate with family members; $12,500 to Black-led arts organization Barrels to Beethoven to replace revenue lost from cancelled classes and programs; $18,000 to St. Margaret Foundation to provide housing for health care workers who face heightened risk of infecting family members at home; and $1.1 million to the Allegheny County Department of Human Services to provide temporary housing and food to vulnerable groups unable to self-quarantine.

These are among 228 grants that have been issued from the Emergency Action Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation to nonprofit organizations, government agencies and community health care providers as of this week – the majority of them to assist the most vulnerable residents of our region who are facing the immediate demands of the unprecedented public health and economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A final round of grant making from the Action Fund is now in process with grants covered by the remaining contributions expected to be awarded by the end of this month. Managers will close the grant application period at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 8, but the Action Fund will continue to accept donations to meet future emergency needs.  

Originally established on March 16 by the region’s four largest foundations to provide grants to large-scale systems protecting the public from COVID-19, the fund has grown to meet broad community need through donations from across the region. Seed funding of $1 million each came from The Heinz Endowments, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the Richard King Mellon Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation. United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania joined the effort, offering its 2-1-1 Help Line and food distribution systems to help connect people to services.

In the first phase of funding in mid-March, coordinators worked with local public health experts and government leaders to improve emergency systems response as quickly as possible. Twelve grants totaling $3.3 million have been issued for systems support. These include funding to provide temporary housing and food distribution to groups unable to self-quarantine; staffing and medical support for the Allegheny County Health Department; doubling the United Way’s 2-1-1 call-in system; transportation assistance for food distribution in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties; and funding for six community-based health centers across Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.

The Pittsburgh Foundation opened the fund to public donations March 17, paying all credit card fees to ensure that every dollar in goes to the community. In its six weeks of operation, Pittsburgh Foundation donors, businesses and corporations, other foundations and individuals have contributed a total of $4.3 million to raise the fund total to $8.3 million.

In addition to the systems-support funding, 216 grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 and totaling $3.9 million have been made to nonprofits, the majority of those to organizations with budgets under $5 million. These grants benefit organizations in Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties serving predominantly low-income households. Grants provide assistance to nonprofits serving individuals impacted by COVID-19, to community health facilities, and to small arts organizations facing revenue losses from mandatory cancellations.

“When we set up the Fund as a first step in meeting this monumental challenge, I knew people across the region would put aside their own worries to give, but the generosity has been just extraordinary,” Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Lisa Schroeder said in announcing the grants. 

About 500 gifts were made to the fund, ranging from $10 credit card donations from the public to $500,000 from Duquesne Light Co., and about $776,000 from the Foundation's donors.

Cam Heyward, a defensive end with the Pittsburgh Steelers who has deep connections to the city, has served as the face of the Foundation’s #SpreadHope campaign for the Fund. “I wasn’t sure who or how I could help during the COVID-19 crisis but through the Action Fund, I can help,” Heyward said. “There are so many people that need help whether it’s through child care, health care, food, housing or plenty of other things – this fund helps nonprofits do exactly that.”

Gilbert and Ellen DeBenedetti, who established a donor-advised fund with The Pittsburgh Foundation in 2014, were drawn to contribute to the Action Fund, they stated in an email, because its purpose aligns strongly with their personal philanthropic mission of supporting education with the goal of reducing economic inequity in communities of color. “We particularly liked that the guiding principles behind the Fund include awarding grants to address racial equity, so that one day, racial identity would no longer predict how one fares in society."

Schroeder commended the leaders of the three other foundations – Grant Oliphant of Heinz, Dave Roger of Henry Hillman and Sam Reiman of Mellon – for partnering quickly to establish the Action Fund and for shortening their internal approval processes so that support could move quickly into the community.

“While philanthropy cannot begin to match what the state and federal governments are empowered to provide in disaster recovery,” Schroeder said, “the support pouring out from our region’s foundation community is astounding. People in need are being helped by local philanthropies while state and federal aid programs are still in application and processing mode. I don’t know of any other community anywhere where foundations collaborate and coordinate so closely to make sure that philanthropic dollars reach as many people in need as possible.”

Schroeder said that as staff is beginning to see applications tapering off, “we believe this is the right time to shift our focus from immediate emergency relief to the longer-term challenge of securing economic recovery for the region.” She said Foundation staff will remain in close contact with nonprofits across all sectors to determine the direction of future grantmaking.

Four Emergency Action Fund grantees are emblematic of the goals: immediate financial support to nonprofit programs that are lifelines to people dependent on essential human services, and operational support for many organizations that are facing severe revenue shortfalls.

  • Lateresa Blackwell is the founder and executive director of Kitchen of Grace, a North Side nonprofit that provides a pathway out of poverty by offering comprehensive food service and skills training to at-risk youth and young adults, many of whom have since lost their food service jobs due to mandated closures. The closures, said Blackwell, forced the organization to completely reevaluate how it would serve the community while not losing everything it had built prior to the pandemic. With $15,000 in Emergency Action Funds, the organization brought on four staff members-- two recent graduates who had lost their jobs and a single mother and a single father—paying them each a small stipend to cook for the community.

    “We made the decision to move to fulfilling emergency needs. With this grant, our staff are providing 200 emergency meals a day to families, single women headed households and elderly who are confined in their spaces. We’re also providing basic school supplies to families with children,” said Blackwell. “As of yesterday, we’re taking 100 nutritious meals to residents of the Ebenezer Senior Towers twice a week. We can do that because of the funding provided.”
  • Trying Together, a nonprofit that advocates for high-quality child care and early education, and that connects child care providers across the region, received $300,000 toward establishing an emergency fund for programs in Allegheny County. About 80% of all licensed providers in the county are under mandatory closures, while about 70 centers remain open to provide essential workers with child care. Trying Together Executive Director Cara Ciminillo said the Action Fund will allow her organization to provide support to 200 smaller, home-based providers. Without that funding, Ciminillo said, those providers would not survive the economic shutdown.

    “Most people with children cannot work without child care, and this grant provides critical support to help the owners of these small businesses, most of whom are women,” she said. “The funding will help them to recover their own livelihoods and ensure that child care will be available when families are able to return to work.”
  • Beaver County-based nonprofit Aliquippa Impact, which serves youth and families by building positive relationships and offering responsible mentorship and structured out-of-school time, received $15,000 from the Fund to shift from in-person programming to helping people isolated at home remain connected and have basic needs met. Executive Director Brandi Pupi said the grant throws out a lifeline of hope and connection to Aliquippa residents.

    “One of the biggest challenges we are seeing is the isolation our families are living in now that their communities, support and resources are not available to them. This grant will enable us to keep our staff members, all living in Aliquippa, so that they can maintain relationships with our young people. We are able to text, call and FaceTime with our youth and their guardians to see if they are ok, and we deliver meals. We’re so grateful for the operating funds to continue this work.” 
  • When Bona Fide Bellevue’s farmer’s market followed the public health officials’ orders and closed in mid-March, Albert Ciuksza, who volunteers with the farmer’s market, worried about nearby residents, many of them regulars at the market, who would be struggling during weeks of quarantine. Ciuksza suspected that seniors in nearby high-rise apartments, people receiving food assistance (the market participates in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and working-class people who had never accepted services before, might be going hungry. The all-volunteer crew quickly created a meal prep and delivery operation where none had existed previously. They were not prepared for the demand.

    With a $25,000 emergency grant from the Action Fund, the farmer’s market, which had no infrastructure or plan for food delivery, is now serving more than 700 meals a day, three days a week, covering a five-mile radius. The group plans to continue the meal service through July, as long as demand continues and the funding lasts. “This has been a really eye-opening experience for all of us,” Ciuksza said. 



Doug Root