Is the Boston Resiliency Fund the success story almost no one is talking about?
It’s the relief fund begun in the early days of the city’s lockdown that is funding everything from meals for the needy to laptops for Boston schoolchildren. It has managed to distribute over $17 million with virtually no drama or controversy, which might be an equally notable accomplishment.
The fund began with a conversation that wasn’t about money at all. In late February, Mayor Marty Walsh was on the phone with Jeffrey Leiden, the CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. They were talking about the scientific and medical ramifications of the coronavirus.
That grew into a discussion about raising cash. Jack Connors, the longtime philanthropist, and Anne Klibanski, the CEO of Partners Health Care, quickly became the other two-thirds of the fund’s ruling triumvirate.
Their initial goal was to raise $10 million, rising to $20 million.
The dollars streamed in at a stunning rate. Maybe it wasn’t so stunning: A blue-chip list of wealthy donors and foundations kicked in $1 million apiece, to blow by the initial goal. The original donors were drawn by having one central place to donate, as well as the credibility of the founders.
Since that auspicious start, the fund has drawn support from a wider range of givers: over 5,800 of them so far, who have donated a total of $30.7 million. Nearly two-thirds of the donors have contributed $100 or less. The fund is administered by the mayor’s office, with Leiden, Connors, and Klibanski making final decisions — on a weekly basis — on who gets the money.
They say they have stressed equity in making those decisions: 40 percent of the grantees are led by a person of color; 62 percent are led by a woman. And the funding has closely tracked the neighborhoods feeling the most pain due to the pandemic. Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan head the list of neighborhoods receiving the greatest amount of funding.
Walsh said the money was filling critical needs, some of them unanticipated. Some of the money has gone to neighborhood health centers to help set up coronavirus testing. It’s paid for 8,000 Chromebooks for Boston schoolchildren, who are suddenly doing school at home. Another big investment has been in food, both in the form of donations to the Greater Boston Food Bank as well as prepared meals. The fund is still collecting, and Walsh said he sees no end in sight.
“We’re going to have it until all the money is gone, “ Walsh said.
Like so much in his crisis, the fund has shone a light on those who need help in this city.
Jen Faigel runs Commonwealth Kitchen in Dorchester, which has gotten $650,000 from the fund so far. Before the pandemic, it was a shared kitchen for a host of restaurants and food service companies, many of them now closed. It has transitioned into a smartly run assembly line helping to feed people from BPS schoolchildren to front-line health care workers, while providing technical assistance to neighborhood restaurants hoping to hang on once the worst of this is over.
Faigel’s operation is cranking out hundreds of meals a week. She’s conscious of serving as a bridge between the wealthy who created the fund and the community that needs it.
The most important thing the Resiliency Fund seems to be doing right is getting help to the people who most need it. That doesn’t always happen. "What does it look like to put equity at the center?” Faigel asked. “You have to be thinking about equity as the starting point of any conversations. We’re leaning into that.”
For comparison’s sake, the One Boston fund that was created after the Marathon bombings distributed $80 million over 20 months. Leiden, the Vertex CEO, hopes the latest fund tells a larger story about Boston.
“I really believe there’s something very unique about the Boston community and its ability to give back in a crisis,” Leiden said. “Even though we don’t all agree on everything, we come together in times of crisis.”