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Richard King Mellon Foundation Approves $15 Million Pandemic Solutions Package

Published 04-13-20

Submitted by Richard King Mellon Foundation

The trustees of the Richard King Mellon Foundation today approved $15 million to jump-start its three COVID-19 response strategies: 

  • Health-innovation grants, to seed quick solutions to the community’s most immediate health-care needs – including Pittsburgh’s quest to lead the world in discovering a vaccine

  • Emergency operating grants to struggling local nonprofits; and

  • Economic-development grants, to support strategies to prevent further job losses now, and to enable economic recovery later.

Foundation Director Sam Reiman had announced the Foundation’s three-pronged effort March 27, soliciting proposals for immediate consideration.

“The response was remarkable – an emblem of both the gravity of this moment, and the resolve and ingenuity of our community,” said Reiman. 

The Foundation’s health-innovation grants will fund efforts to repurpose existing drugs to meet immediate pandemic needs; repurpose manufacturing to produce quickly essential medical supplies; deploy technology to slow the spread of the disease; and to discover a vaccine. The Foundation approved a $196,000 request from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research, one of only a handful of research centers to be provided live virus samples by the Centers for Disease Control. The grant will enable the Center to purchase specialized research equipment necessary for its efforts to find a COVID-19 cure. Another example includes the Foundation’s $160,000 grant to support Global Links, which will partner with Day Owl and Highmark/Allegheny Health Network to produce 50,000 plastic face shields.  The Foundation will also award a series of additional Program Related Investments and grants to researchers, entrepreneurs, hospital systems, and manufacturers seeking to address the pandemic.  “We cannot allow this virus to destroy what we have built together over decades, and that begins with halting the spread of this virus,” said Reiman.

To seed economic recovery, the Foundation’s awarded $500,000 to the Progress Fund, to subsidize its efforts to prevent further layoffs and keep at-risk small businesses running – including in rural counties of Southwestern Pennsylvania. And another $500,000 to Bridgeway Capital, to kick start a $2.25 million COVID-19 response fund, to help small businesses navigate sudden and catastrophic disruptions to their businesses. More economic-development grants will be executed in the coming weeks and months. “We all are moved and saddened by the epic spike in unemployment in our community,” said Reiman. “We know the wrenching human impacts that lie behind those numbers. These and other economic-development data-based investments will help dent the blow and seed our recovery.” 

Reiman on March 27 invited all the Foundation’s current nonprofit partners in Southwestern Pennsylvania to apply for emergency operating grants. The first round of applications closed on Monday April 6, with the Foundation receiving more than 77 applications. The Richard King Mellon Foundation emergency grants will be disbursed next week.  A list of those grantees will be made available at that time, after all grantees who applied are notified. Already approved is $1 million to the Pittsburgh Foundation, for a joint Emergency Action Fund, launched by the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Heinz Endowments, the Hillman Family Foundations, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation. 

Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Richard A. Mellon summarized the Foundation’s three strategies thusly:

“Our medical research grants will support essential health innovations, including the intensive efforts of Pittsburgh’s renowned researchers to once again find the world a cure, as they have so notably done before. Our emergency grants will help our local nonprofit partners to continue their essential work at this most difficult hour. And our funding of smart economic-development strategies will bring immediate relief to the people of Southwestern Pennsylvania – and position us to be poised to surge again, when the economy starts anew,” Mellon said.

Details of some of the other projects in the $15 million package will be announced as partner agreements are executed. The entire $15 million is expected to be disbursed within six months, and the Foundation will consider additional support based on health and economic data. Reiman said the Foundation will continue to support its pre-pandemic projects too, though the pandemic may require the timelines for some of those projects to be extended. “Our five year strategic plan that concludes in 2020 remains a sound formula for regional growth, and so we will continue to advance that established agenda,” Reiman said. “At the same time, we continue to advance our strategic planning for 2021 and beyond, and the pandemic makes the priorities we have been developing the past year even more timely and important.”  

The Foundation has brought on additional expertise to respond just in time to the crisis. This includes Gabriella “Gaby” Gonzalez, formerly of RAND Corporation where she focused on the future of workforce, joining the Foundation as program officer; Craig Markovitz, co-founder of surgical robotics company Blue Belt Technologies and faculty at CMU’s Tepper School of Business, joining as the Foundation’s first Prosser Mellon Fellow; and, Tim Reeves, Principle at Allen & Gerritsen and former director of communications for Gov. Tom Ridge during both of his administrations, supporting the Foundation’s strategic communications.  

“Pittsburgh once again is stepping up against adversity, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation is eager to provide strategic support that helps at this essential hour,” said Reiman.

“As we do so, we will continue to look for opportunities to work in collaboration with our peer Foundations, for-profit, and public sector partners to maximize our cumulative positive impact on the communities and organizations we all hold dear,” said Reiman. “The Richard King Mellon Foundation has served as a reservoir of stability in the face of economic, environmental, and now health crises for more than seventy years. We will once again get through this crisis together.”  

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Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Foundation’s 2019 endowment was $2.7 billion and its Trustees in 2019 awarded 172 grants totaling $129 million, focused on the Foundation’s strategic priorities: Education, human services, economic development, and environmental conservation.

Richard King Mellon Foundation

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