City of Boston to launch coronavirus fund for families hit hardest by crisis

Boston Foundation and United Way response funds also will serve nonprofits and workers affected by the pandemic

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on March 15. Blake Nissen/The Boston Globe

As Greater Boston faces one of the biggest public health crises in its history — with schools shuttering, businesses running remotely, and health care workers bracing for a spike in patients — leaders in the city’s business and philanthropic communities are stepping up to help those who stand to be hurt the most. On Monday, the City of Boston will announce a new fund to assist families affected by the sprawling coronavirus outbreak.

According to sources familiar with the plans, the city has already tapped Jack Connors, one of Boston’s most prolific fund-raisers; Partners, the state’s largest health care provider; and one of the city’s most prominent executives, Vertex CEO Jeff Leiden, to help drive the effort. Leiden has been working with Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston to launch the fund over the last few days, sources close to the plans said, and Vertex will commit $1 million to help seed the fund. Connors and Partners also committed $1 million, and other donors, including Mass Mutual, the Gross Family Foundation, Bain Capital, John and Cindy Fish did as well.

The money raised Sources compared it to the One Fund, a fund-raising effort launched by the city and prominent philanthropic partners in 2013 to aid victims in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. That fund eventually raised over $80 million to support victims in their recovery.

The Covid-19 fund, which is as yet unnamed, will help provide emergency food services for families and schoolchildren who are not getting meals in Boston’s Public schools, and it will support health care workers and first responders who need child care and other support. The funds will also go toward providing technology and connectivity to people who need it, and will further aid at-risk populations such as the elderly and homeless.

Mayor Walsh will host a press conference on Monday afternoon outlining the full details of the fund and its partners.

Sources have said that the Shah Family Foundation, funded by the family behind the online furniture giant Wayfair, and the Red Sox Foundation, have committed to providing technology for Boston Public School students, which is one of the priorities of the new initiative. (The principal owner of the Red Sox, John Henry, also owns the Globe.) In addition, the John W. Henry Family Foundation has made a significant pledge to the new fund, sources said.

Given the high profile of the people and organizations behind the fund, there is an expectation that the fund-raising effort will be extensive, yielding significant contributions from the corporate community to allow for a mission that might range in many directions.

Connors and Leiden are particularly well placed in the city’s business hierarchy, and Connors in particular has shown a notable willingness to solicit funds from counterparts for causes he deems worthy. By the time of Monday’s news conference, there is an expectation that there will be other high-profile names added to the roster of people pushing the effort.

The Boston Foundation also announced Friday that it would launch an effort to support the work of nonprofit groups serving the communities most vulnerable to Covid-19. It has created a response fund that will offer one-time operating grants to organizations working with those most at risk.

The foundation will work in partnership with the City of Boston to distribute grants on a rolling basis to nonprofit groups that provide eldercare and support to vulnerable populations.

In a statement, Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, said that although the outbreak is in its early stages, the foundation was hoping to anticipate the needs of those who may be hit the hardest.

“This fund is designed to give added support to those organizations on the front lines of caring for and assisting vulnerable populations," he said, and it will serve "those communities where the loss of jobs and benefits, or the closure of institutions, are creating a significant new burden for community members and the social service organizations that provide a safety net for them.”

Keith Mahoney, the foundation’s vice president for communications, said the organization is committed to seeding the fund with a six-figure donation, and that several of its existing donors have said they would do the same.

“We’ve had a lot of interest from our corporate partners, banks, technology firms, insurance firms, and others that we’re in regular touch with,” he said. “We are trying to keep our fund goals as flexible as possible since this is such a rapidly changing situation, and provide a pool of resources that would help the most critical needs that come our way.”

The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley has also launched the Covid-19 Family Support Fund to assist hourly and low-wage workers who may face financial hardship as businesses shut down to stem the Covid-19 outbreak. The fund will support the work of 20 organizations throughout Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire in administering emergency assistance to families, providing one-time grants of up to $2,000 to cover food, housing, and child care.

United Way also said that it was partnering with the Massachusetts Department of Health to offer Covid-19 assistance through the department’s 2-1-1 support line for those looking for referrals and more information on the virus.

Karley Ausiello, the United Way’s senior vice president for community impact, said that the organization is drawing funds from its pre-established Family Fund, which provides emergency assistance throughout the region, and recently offered support to the families affected by the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley.

She said since launching the fund on Saturday, the organization has already heard from several of its corporate partners, and she expects that the funds will begin being distributed to families in need as soon as Monday and Tuesday of this week.

“What we try to do is really make this focused on getting funds to individuals who are going to be impacted financially by the public health crisis,” she said. Her team is planning to work closely with other organizations throughout Boston to respond to the outbreak.

“As the philanthropic community, we’re all going to try and be coordinating efforts to help,” she said.

For a list of ways to help the community, please visit globe.com/coronavirushelp.

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