Even in the early days of the coronavirus, organizers of a charitable fund aimed at helping Philadelphia-area nonprofits knew they would have to work fast.

The PHL COVID-19 Fund — a joint effort among the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Foundation, and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey — formed on March 19 and has already raised and given away $17.5 million. More than 500 local nonprofits, straining under the economic pressures of the pandemic, have received grants from the fund.

There is about $200,000 remaining to be awarded, and the PHL COVID-19 Fund is still accepting donations, but organizers say they are thankful for the outpouring of support from the business community as well as from individual contributors. More than 8,500 donations have come in so far, surpassing even optimistic projections.

The PHL COVID-19 Fund offers grants to Philadelphia-area nonprofits.
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The PHL COVID-19 Fund offers grants to Philadelphia-area nonprofits.

“We knew we could get more done together with this kind of focus, but if you would have told me over 8,500 people and organizations would have given to this effort, that is remarkable,” said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation.

Not only did pledges come in quickly, but so did the money that accompanied them. Many times, people commit to a charity, but actually collecting the money can be a challenge. That wasn’t the case with the PHL COVID-19 Fund.

Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation
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Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation

“When people say they will do it, like never before, you never had to chase the money, it was there,” said Bill Golderer, executive director of the local United Way. “In its own way that became a real morale booster.”

Organizers also noted that all of the donated money went directly to the nonprofits, with no expenses taken out for administrative costs.

“This was an effort where Pedro’s organization and my organization, you had folks who had jobs and they added this to their existing jobs to make this happen,” Golderer said. “We didn’t hire additional staff because we wanted to make sure 100 cents of every dollar would go to the community.”

Patti LaBelle during PHLove Covid-19 variety show on on May 21, 2020.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Patti LaBelle during PHLove Covid-19 variety show on on May 21, 2020.

Philadelphia’s generous spirit was on display during a one-hour fund-raising variety show on May 21, with proceeds going to the fund. The show, which featured performances by Philadelphia musicians like Patti LaBelle, Questlove, and Daryl Hall, was broadcast live on several TV stations, radio stations, and on Inquirer.com. It raised $1.5 million for the PHL COVID-19 Fund.

“I think the community needed something at that moment, when we could feel better about coming together and being inspired and feeling connected with each other,” Golderer said.

Camp participants Nalia and Shilane Diaz and their mother, Hilda, picked up supplies for virtual Camp Phoenix that is run by Chester Eastside.
Courtesy: Chester Eastside
Camp participants Nalia and Shilane Diaz and their mother, Hilda, picked up supplies for virtual Camp Phoenix that is run by Chester Eastside.

For many of the nonprofits that received money from the fund, the support has provided a much-needed lifeline.

The grants “just made a difference, it lifted a burden in terms of how we would continue,” said the Rev. Zuline Wilkinson, executive director of Chester Eastside, which received two grants totaling $65,000.

Among the services Chester Eastside provides is offering a twice-weekly food distribution. Wilkinson estimates that 120,000 meals are served a year.

“It’s really important to understand the magnitude of food insecurity in Chester,” she said. “We are not the only pantry in Chester, but we are one of the largest. Every one of us is serving a segment of the population that is food insecure.”

The Rev. Zuline Wilkinson
Courtesy: Chester Eastside
The Rev. Zuline Wilkinson

La Comunidad Hispana, which has three locations in Chester County, specializes in providing health care to those who cannot afford health insurance. It received a $50,000 grant.

“It helped us significantly,” said Mariana Izraelson, executive director of La Comunidad Hispana. “COVID has drastically impacted our services, and the funding has supported us in a difficult time because we weren’t prepared to absorb the extra costs.”

She said her organization has had $98,000 in COVID-related expenses, such as purchasing of PPE, cleaning the facilities twice a day, and hiring more staffing to fulfill needs.

Another beneficiary was the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, which received a $40,000 grant. Based in Philadelphia, CCTC provides mental and behavioral health services to the most vulnerable children and families living in the region. Executive director Tony Valdes said that in any given week during this pandemic, CCTC helps 2,400 families.

The grant it received from the PHL COVID-19 Fund allowed CCTC to transition to virtual visits between its providers and clients.

“It helped us make sure we stayed connected with families, especially in a time when they needed even more help than usual due to COVID,” Valdes said.

Pulling off this project in a relatively short period of time was the true essence of teamwork throughout the Philadelphia region, said Ramos.

“The region didn’t hesitate to come together,” he said. “There was a real public spirit, and it was remarkable to see so many factions that worked and do what was needed to get done.”

The Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which operates under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation. For more information on the PHL COVID-19 Fund, visit phlcovid19fund.org.