Deaconess COVID-19 Funding Supports More than 100 Black-Led Groups

From March through August of this year, UCC-related Deaconess Foundation invested more than $2.2 million to support emergency response and recovery efforts in the St. Louis region. Since the launch of its COVID-19 Equitable Relief and Recovery Fund, Deaconess has provided grants to more than 100 Black-led social service and social change organizations providing direct aid to people impacted by the pandemic. The Fund, now fully allocated and dispersed, was created to strengthen existing regional infrastructure for public health and social service coordination while promoting racial equity, regional collaboration, and inclusion in COVID-19 responses.

“As the pandemic stripped health and financial stability from our community, we were pleased to be able to help people nourish, shelter and care for their families while public sector relief was materializing and stabilizing,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation. “Philanthropy is well-positioned to innovate more quickly and equitably than government in response to human crisis even when public responses will be more robust.”

The Foundation’s efforts attracted additional support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Wells Fargo Advisors.

Anticipating unpredictable shifts in the social sector, Deaconess made $400,000 available in general operating support for nonprofit organizations advocating and organizing to advance child well-being, including its core partners. Another $525,000 was invested directly in coordinated social service and public health response through the United Way of Greater St. Louis COVID-19 Crisis Response Services and Fund, St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC) COVID-19 Emergency Fund, and Solidarity Economy St. LouisSTL COVID-19 Monetary Mutual Aid.

Deaconess’ deepest investment of $755,000 supported 68 organizations providing family and economic stability, including rent, childcare for essential workers, and utility assistance. Twenty-three organizations shared $255,000 to assure access to health services, personal protective equipment, and COVID-19 testing. Another $55,000 was granted to nine organizations for early childhood education and youth justice, technology to support virtual programming, therapeutic support, and intake. Grants ranged from $5,000 to $50,000 per organization and served residents in 95 regional zip codes. Most organizations received funding within three weeks of applying.

In response to disparities in COVID-19 contraction and death rates for Black people and the under-representation of Black leadership in regional response, Deaconess focused investment in Black-led organizations and prioritized those that serve Black communities. Organizations were classified as Black-led if either the chief executive or chief volunteer officer identified as Black. Of the grants awarded:

  • 39% of organizations have a chief executive who identifies as Black or African American;
  • 31% of agencies have a chief volunteer officer or board chair who identifies as Black or African American; and
  • 30% of the groups have both chief executives and chief volunteers who identify as Black or African American.

The journey to an equitable economic recovery from the pandemic will take time. So Deaconess has allocated $300,000 to support a cohort of six organizations it has identified as critical to framing a just recovery and assure public will for a sustained public policy response. The cohort will receive training, coaching, and peer support for capacity building alongside funding. The Foundation’s Just Recovery Cohort includes:

For a comprehensive report on Deaconess’ COVID-19 funding efforts and a complete list of partners, visit

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