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Pandemic philanthropy reaches new peak with launch of statewide fund

Donors have raised $13m for Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund

As the coronavirus pandemic ravages the Massachusetts economy, the need for help will be vast — impossible to calculate even. No community or sector will emerge unscathed.

That’s why Lauren Baker and Joanna Jacobson, president of the One8 Foundation in Boston, embarked on an ambitious charitable initiative, one that would span the entire state.

They watched city-specific efforts take shape — most notably the $22 million-plus Boston Resiliency Fund. They saw industries rally around their own, such as in the hard-hit restaurant business.

Now, it’s time to help others, those who might get left behind. Baker and her husband, Governor Charlie Baker, unveiled on Monday an ambitious new effort dubbed the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund. The fund aims, in part, to address the geographic gaps not yet filled by earlier initiatives.


Baker got started after she and her husband heard from philanthropists who wanted to give to a statewide effort addressing the pandemic. One did not exist at the time, she said in an interview, and Jacobson was among those who approached the Bakers about the idea. Lauren Baker and Jacobson spent the past week calling their contacts to raise enough money to give the new fund some heft at its inception.

The result? They dialed up at least $13 million worth of donations in time for Monday’s launch. But they’re just getting started. The sky is the limit, Baker said. She knows it will be impossible to address every pandemic-related need, no matter how much they raise.

The One8 Foundation, which normally doles out grants for educational and Jewish causes, will provide administrative support and has given $1.8 million to the new effort. Jonathan Raymond has been hired to be the relief fund’s executive director. (Raymond is putting on hold his part-time job as executive director of the National Association of School Superintendents, to focus on this.) The Boston Foundation will administer gifts from foundations and donor-advised funds, while a charitable affiliate of Eastern Bank will handle the rest. Raymond will work with a small advisory group that will include Baker and Jacobson to field inquiries and decide how to divvy up the donations.


The Boston Resiliency Fund and the statewide fund share similar missions. The new relief fund aims to help first responders and health care workers, as well as disadvantaged residents facing homelessness, hunger, and the loss of crucial services. As of Monday, the Boston fund had already distributed more than $8 million for similar causes within the city.

But many deserving communities lack the wealth and corporate base that exists in Boston. Like the Boston fund, the Massachusetts relief fund will work with charitable groups, which in turn will provide the services directly.

Paul Grogan, president of The Boston Foundation, said he has never seen a philanthropic effort with a statewide scope like this one before. (Grogan’s foundation has raised more than $4 million for its own coronavirus fund, one that aims to help keep Boston-area nonprofits from going under.)

We keep hearing how this crisis is unprecedented. But maybe the state’s collective philanthropic efforts can be as well.

Toward that end, Citizens Bank became the latest New England bank to launch its own pandemic initiative on Monday. Citizens pledged $5 million in grants to various causes across its multistate footprint, including $1.3 million in Massachusetts. Most of that money will go to help small businesses survive the pandemic’s financial impacts.


Money isn’t the only way to help. John Hancock was one of the $1 million corporate donors behind the Boston Resiliency Fund. But the insurer unveiled a different kind of project on Monday: a call to businesses and individuals to light their buildings blue or put blue signs in their windows, to show gratitude for the health care workers and others who are on the front lines.

To kick things off, John Hancock flipped its iconic weather beacon to blue, atop the 200 Berkeley St. building. Expect to see City Hall, the Zakim Bridge, South Station, the TD Garden, and the Government Center MBTA station lit up in blue as well. Marianne Harrison, the insurer’s president, said her team is talking with other businesses, persuading them to join in. It’s important for the entire community, she said, to show solidarity in such a difficult time.

Meanwhile, at the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce, executive director Grace Moreno said the five staff members all have new jobs now: case managers, to help guide chamber members through the crisis. The chamber and the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts on Monday launched what they call the “Futures Fund,” a program for their members to tap into low-cost loans at Berkshire Bank.

The federal government, Moreno said, can play a crucial role in softening the financial impact from the pandemic. But everyone, she said, needs to step up, to keep Massachusetts as strong as possible.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.