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19 Mar 2020

Helping The Helpers

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March 19, 2020 Category: Coronavirus, Health Posted by:

As the first week of Philadelphia’s citywide shutdown due to the coronavirus draws to a close, a group of philanthropic organizations are getting together to give to the non-profit organizations helping the City’s most vulnerable get through the pandemic.

By Denise Clay

One of the bigger concerns Philadelphia’s City officials had when considering whether or not to shut down City services, schools and businesses to combat the spread of the coronavirus was how it would impact the city’s most vulnerable residents and the organizations that help them.

As part of Thursday’s briefing on the virus at City Hall, Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters that the City’s philanthropic community was helping to solve this problem by creating a fund that would give these organizations the money they need to continue their missions.

The City has partnered with the Philadelphia Foundation and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to launch the PHL COVID-19 Fund. The fund would provide grants to non-profit organizations that work with communities that have been particularly hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Because many of these organizations work with people who have been impacted by the City shutdown in ways including childcare disruptions, food insecurity and problems accessing healthcare, they need more money to function, Mayor Jim Kenney said. 

Through this foundation, the community can ensure that these organizations get what they need to do their job.

“This is an unprecedented time demanding an unparalleled unified response,” Kenney said. “The Fund is a shining example of government, philanthropy, and business coming together to respond to the immediate demands of our community and adapt to this evolving challenge. If you have the means to give, I urge you to support our nonprofits serving residents who need it most.”

A $3 million lead grant from the William Penn Foundation is responsible for half of the $6.4 million that has started the fund, said Bill Golderer, president and CEO of the United Way. At a time when social distancing is the catch phrase of the day, we have to remember not to put distance between ourselves as a community while we try and keep our distance from the coronavirus, he said. 

“Some of our neighbors are deeply challenged,” said Golderer, who is also a member of City Council’s Special Committee on Poverty. “During these times, they turn to community organizations, people who have helped them in the past and people they trust. These organizations are already resource constrained. We need to come together as we never have before because our need is the greatest it’s ever been.”

To make a contribution, or even to volunteer your services, go to,

Also at Thursday’s briefing, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service made a call for volunteers for the city’s non-profits. Because these organizations are operating at maximum capacity, more help is necessary, said Amanda Gamble, the City’s chief service officer.

“It has been uplifting to see the number of individuals who have come to me asking how they can help and volunteer their time,” she said. “We have also been hearing from our non-profit partners that the need for volunteers is maybe the greatest that they’ve ever seen. These organizations are committed to ensuring that all of our vulnerable populations continue to have access to the resources that they provide, and need our help more than ever.” 

If you’re a non-profit organization that needs volunteers, you can post opportunities to or email your opportunities to voluntee[email protected]. This is also where residents who want to volunteer can sign up to participate. The Medical Reserve Corps, which serves during medical emergencies and has worked at big events like the City’s Welcome America celebration, is also looking for volunteers. Go to: to register for those opportunities. 

Currently, Philadelphia has 44 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and is currently observing with 160 other people who were exposed to the virus for signs of it, City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. Of the 44 cases, 20 are healthcare workers, Farley said. 

Also, the restrictions set forth in the Mayor’s and Health Commissioner’s Emergency Order are being re-evaluated, but will remain in place until March 27, Managing Director Brian Abernathy said. 

SEPTA is putting all of its city-based transportation services on a Saturday schedule to go with their regional rail service, the city’s recreation centers will all be closed after Friday, and the city is making provisions to find replacement locations for the food programs that were being operated there, he said.

While the Philadelphia Mills Mall, which was singled out for violating the order, has since closed, it’s important for businesses to remember that this is an order, not a request, Abernathy said.

“I realize that this is difficult for small businesses and we’re working to develop supports for these businesses,” Abernathy said. “But I want to make it clear that this isn’t voluntary. For your sake, for your employee’s sake, for your customer’s sake, close your business if it isn’t essential.” 

During Wednesday’s briefing, City officials were asked about the Philadelphia Police Department’s temporary response model, which gives warrants to people who have been detained on certain charges instead of arresting them. A news report on the plan led to condemnation from a variety of people, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw condemned the leak of the memo the report was based on, as did Abernathy, who called it “irresponsible”.

For more information on the city’s response to the Coronavirus, call 800-722-7112.

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