A Year Unlike Any Other: Reviewing The Packard Foundation’s Response to COVID-19

As 2020 comes to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic is surging in the United States and around the world, even as new vaccines offer a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Reflecting on the year, it is clear that many people have endured previously unimaginable hardship, which has amplified existing disparities and created many new health and economic concerns.  

From the outset of the pandemicthe Packard Foundation’s focus has been to accommodate the unique demands shouldered by our grantees in the face of the Coronavirus. The Foundation worked quickly to respond to needs on several fronts. For existing grantee organizations, we emphasized flexibility, adjusting our processes to recognize the challenges they facedIn addition, the Foundation made 66 new direct emergency response grants for COVID-19 relief totaling $21.3 million.  

From organizations providing disaster relief payments to undocumented residents of California’s Central Valley who harvest much of our nation’s food, to supporting scientific research that informs COVID-19 response, the Foundation focused on needs in the places where we have long operated programs. These grants are organized in four broad categories: 

  • Organizations in the Bay Area and around California serving people who are facing housing insecurity, unemployed, uninsured or otherwise especially vulnerable to the virus and its economic impacts. This includes community relief funds, aligned with our existing regional giving priorities. 
  • Issues that build on the Foundation’s current programmatic investments, with an emphasis on short-term emergency needs. Foundation program officers identified organizations facing unexpected challenges due to COVID-19, particularly in places where immediate relief was needed to avoid backsliding on long-established programmatic goals. Included in this work was an investment in national paid family leave policy, which is essential for people to care for themselves and the people they love. 
  • Domestic and global public health responses to supplement public funding, support preventative practices, and conduct outreach to communities. These grants ranged from funds to the Hopi Foundation to support Native American response to COVID-19 in the Colorado Plateau region to the Ethiopian Public Health Association to support their national preparedness and response plan to reduce the disproportionate impact the pandemic has on women and girls. 
  • Scientific research and data collection to learn how the virus spreads, inform public health decision making, and support testing strategies. As an example, three grants were made to support the TRACE (Team-Based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics) project, a population testing and monitoring approach that can shed light on the prevalence and spread of COVID-19 in a community in real time spearheaded by scientists and public health experts at Oregon State University, in partnership with public health workers in communities across Oregon. 

In addition to this direct grantmaking, the Foundation also made a $3 million mission investment in the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, to help small businesses procure COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program funding, especially in the Central Valley of California and other rural communities that experience persistent poverty.  

The Foundation is currently evaluating the impacts of its COVID-19 emergency response to date, with an emphasis on assessing its equity and inclusivity. The evaluation will include the ways the Foundation changed its internal policies and processes to move quickly and reduce hurdles for grantees and will be made publicly available upon completion.  

To learn more about the Packard Foundation’s response to COVID-19, please visit packard.org/our-response-to-coronavirus.