Deaconess Announces $2.2 Million Emergency Support for Black-Led Organizations

April 27, 2020

Deaconess Foundation is seeking to partner with local Black-led social service and social change organizations to invest a total of $2.2 million in support of COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts in the St. Louis region. The funding will support sustaining Black-led organization’s capacity to respond to community needs during the pandemic. The Equitable Relief and Recovery Fund aims to strengthen existing regional infrastructure for public health and social service coordination while promoting racial equity, regional collaboration, and inclusion in COVID-19 responses.

“Each day brings additional data pointing to the heavy toll COVID-19 is taking on our region,” said Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation. “We need coordinated systemic responses to the social needs of children and families and leadership from impacted communities.”

In addition to $1.2 million in emergency funding from Deaconess, the Equitable Relief and Recovery Fund received support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). On April 7, RWJF announced a $50 million national effort to help some of the nation’s most stressed communities, including lower-income workers, communities of color, indigenous communities, and people with disabilities through COVID-19. As Deaconess Foundation was finalizing its funding, RWJF reached out and committed $1 million in humanitarian aid for the St. Louis region through Deaconess. RWJF’s investment in St. Louis aims to help communities that already face daunting health challenges navigate the additional burdens of the pandemic by addressing immediate needs such as food, housing, and income assistance.

“Deaconess is pleased to partner with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help people in St. Louis,” said Wilson. “Their commitment to the region is a fortunate addition to this community’s generosity to ensure equitable relief efforts.”

Deaconess’ mission to improve the health of the Metropolitan St. Louis community and its people and its commitment to racial equity has heightened urgency in the face of this global pandemic where health outcomes for Black people are devastating. In St. Louis city, Black people are 45.9% of the population, yet accounted for 100% of the first 13 COVID-19 reported deaths. St. Louis County reports that the death rate for Black people is more than three time that of whites.

Aware of the health and racial inequities that plague St. Louis, Black-led social change groups foresaw the catastrophic impact COVID-19 would have on marginalized communities. In early March, they drafted and delivered public health policy recommendations for how elected officials should respond for our most destitute neighbors, from the unhoused to the incarcerated. Organizations with governance and management with cultural proximity to communities they serve, “engender trust of the people served, mobilized or advocated for,” Deaconess noted in its 2018 Follow the Leader report on Black-led non-profits in St. Louis. Trust and proximity influence responsiveness and increase the effectiveness of programmatic efforts.

“Black women are the face of death for the COVID-19 crisis in St. Louis,” said Wilson. “The first reported deaths from the pandemic in St. Louis City and County were Black women. They should also be the face of recovery.”

In fact, Deaconess’ first investments for relief funding will go to critical regional institutions led by Black women. The United Way of Greater St. Louis, helmed by President and CEO Michelle Tucker, will receive $250,000 for its COVID-19 Crisis Response Services and Fund providing coordinated social services. This includes the 2-1-1 Information and Referral Center for people seeking assistance to meet basic needs and mobilization with Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COADs).

Another $250,000 for public health response will be granted to the St. Louis Regional Health Commission (RHC), whose chief executive officer is Angela Fleming Brown. There the funding into their RHC COVID-19 Emergency Fund will support continued access to care for uninsured patients. Funds will be used for urgent medical supplies and equipment, costs of testing for uninsured patients, transitional staffing, treatment services and basic equipment to expand capacity and navigation services to meet the needs of the increased demand for community healthcare organizations, primarily federally-qualified health centers.

Relief funding of $25,000 will be provided to Solidarity Economy St. Louis for STL COVID-19 Monetary Mutual Aid. This is a grassroots mobilization to provide funding solidarity for those whose livelihood is being directly impacted by the coronavirus crisis in the St. Louis area. The effort is modeled after microgrant work being done by individuals in the Oakland/Berkeley area. Impacted individuals can make a “minimum amount needed” request (up to $1,500). As of April 12, nearly $18,000 had been redistributed through the citizen-to-citizen support network.

After relief, comes the recovery effort. To support these initiatives, Deaconess will select and build the capacity of organizations essential to framing a just recovery. The organizations, which already work to hold elected officials accountable, mobilize communities and cast vision for a future St. Louis that family well-being, will receive general operating support and organizational development to assure their vitality beyond the economic crisis of this moment. These organizations will be chosen and announced soon.

An open, streamlined application process for additional grants from $5,000 to $50,000 will be available beginning Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Replies will be provided weekly on a rolling basis. The application can be found here.

Eligible organizations will be Black-led, provide direct aid (i.e. food, shelter, financial supports) to people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and/or lead efforts to mobilize these communities to meet social needs.  The geographic footprint for funding includes: St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, Franklin and St. Charles Counties in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair Counties in Illinois. Organizations are classified as Black-led if either the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Volunteer Officer identifies as Black.


About Deaconess Foundation

Deaconess Foundation is a grant making organization building power for child well-being through philanthropy, advocacy and organizing for racial equity and public policy change.  A ministry of the United Church of Christ, Deaconess has invested more than $85 million to improve the health of the St. Louis community since 1998. The Foundation’s advocacy and grantmaking footprint includes St. Louis City, St. Louis, Jefferson, St. Charles and Franklin Counties in Missouri and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties in Illinois. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on socials @deaconessfound and

About The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 45 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working alongside others to build a national Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at