By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is no stranger to the underserved communities in Milwaukee. Since its establishment over a hundred years ago, the foundation has been a reliable resource in providing funding to organizations in good times and bad and the COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception.
Beginning in late March, the foundation has provided grants through its MKE Responds Fund to places such as Hunger Task Force, Imagine MKE, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, the Benedict Center, Safe & Sound and countless more.
In response to its efforts, the foundation recently received a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Ellen Gilligan, the president and CEO of GMF, said the foundation was extremely honored and excited to receive the grant, which will go towards the MKE Responds Fund.
Gilligan explained that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation took an interest in GMF due to its response to COVID-19, in particular GMF’s focus on the relationship between health and race in Milwaukee and its efforts to engage its partners and community members.
“The COVID virus lay bare the inequity we have known for many generations,” she said. “Our focus has been strategically focused on the underserved and black communities.”
While coronavirus has impacted all of Milwaukee, the black community has been hit the hardest despite the fact that it makes up less than half of the population.
When COVID-19 first came to Milwaukee, GMF responded almost immediately, according to Gilligan. So far, the organization has raised over $3.2 million and is not ceasing in its fundraising efforts.
Through its MKE Response Funds, organizations can apply for grants, which are then awarded on a weekly basis. Gilligan explained that the foundation has six areas of focus: food, housing & shelter, medical services/clinics, mental health and early childhood & K-12 education.
Its partners include United Way, the Zilber Foundation, the Bader Foundation, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Succeeds, Milwaukee Public Schools and Teach for America.
Gilligan said that when the pandemic began, staff members reached out to underserved communities where GMF was already at work, but organizations also reached out to them.
“It was a dialogue that was going both ways,” Gilligan said. “We were going out and people were coming in.”
She stressed that while the financial resources are important, COVID-19 is forcing Milwaukee to identify the policy and systemic issues plaguing the city. These systemic issues are caused be a broken system and the current reality has brought those issues to light in an urgent way, she said.
Since 2016, GMF has partnered with the Medical College of Wisconsin to address social determinants of health. It seemed like such an academic concept, but coronavirus has made it more real, she said.
Gilligan expressed her hope that Milwaukee responds to the inequities and creates a better system going forward.
“[Coronavirus has been] shining a light on systemic issues that will help us address and rebuild in a different way,” she said.
Despite all that’s happening and all that will occur, Gilligan knows Milwaukee will pull through.
“Milwaukee is a tremendously resilient city,” she said.
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is accepting monetary and other donations such as hand sanitizer, PPE masks, feminine products, diapers and more. To learn more about how to donate, volunteer or apply for a grant visit greatermilwaukeefoundation.org.