SEATTLE (AP/KXAN) — MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist, author and former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has announced she has given away $4.1 billion in the past four months to hundreds of organizations as part of a giving pledge she announced last year.
Scott announced her pandemic-era philanthropy in a Medium post Tuesday. She described the coronavirus pandemic as “a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” and noted is has been worse for women, people of color and those living in poverty.
“Meanwhile,” she wrote, “it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
At least two local charities are of 384 recipients to receive a portion of Scott’s second-largest philanthropic giving initiative of the year. Meals on Wheels Central Texas and the YWCA of Greater Austin were recipients of donations from the 18th-richest person in the world.
Meals on Wheels Central Texas received $8 million from Scott, and the YWCA received $1 million.
In a press release, Meals on Wheels Central Texas CEO and President Adam Hauser called the donation “transformational.” Hauser says his program has recently been trying to keep up with the 160% increase in demand.
“It will allow us to feed more hungry Central Texas seniors and provide other services to ensure they are not forgotten and can age with dignity and independence, while saving taxpayers money in the process,” Hauser said. “We are humbled by Ms. Scott’s generosity and deeply thankful for the trust she has shown in our agency and the work we do.”
The Austin-Round Rock area has the second-fastest growing senior population in the country. As its population grows, so does the need for the life-sustaining services like Meals on Wheels Central Texas provides. This has been especially true during the pandemic.
Since stay-at-home orders first went into effect in April 2020, volunteers have delivered over 640,000 meals. Since the grant is a one-time grant, they’re stretching it as a long-term investment for various programs and services that will extend beyond just one year’s budget.
The YWCA of Greater Austin said its donation from Scott will go toward deepening the work of YWCA Austin’s Counseling & Referral Center, Care Coordination Program and Volunteer & Training Institute to “serve underrepresented communities across Central Texas in the area of mental health and care coordination,” they said in a press release.
The YWCA dates back to 1907. It played a role during the Civil Rights era—participating in desegregation efforts—and continues to advocate for racial equity today. In recent years, YWCA Greater Austin has worked to bridge the gap between mental health and racial equity.
“In a time where COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income communities of color, YWCA Greater Austin steps in to provide mental health services to people grieving their loved ones, job loss, anxiety, depression and the effects that social distance has on individuals,” said Naya Diaz, executive director of YWCA Greater Austin.
Diaz says this is the largest donation her organization has ever seen.
“With regards to our budget—the gift represents a year’s worth of our annual budget. However, this gift will make YWCA’s work possible for years to come and will impact Central Texans long term,” said Diaz.
Scott’s philanthropic background
After donating $1.68 billion to 116 nonprofits, universities, community development groups and legal organizations last July, Scott asked a team of advisers to help her “accelerate” her 2020 giving with immediate help to those financially gutted by the pandemic.
She said the team used a data-driven approach, identifying organizations with strong leadership and results, specifically in communities with high food insecurity, racial inequity and poverty rates, “and low access to philanthropic capital.”
Scott and her team started with 6,490 organizations, researched 822 and put 438 “on hold for now,” waiting for more details about their impact, management and how they treat employees or community members.
In total, 384 organizations in 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., will share $4,158,500,000 in gifts, including food banks, emergency relief funds “and support services for those most vulnerable.” Other organizations address “long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis,” such as debt relief, employment training, credit and financial services for under-resourced communities and education for historically marginalized and underserved people. The money will also support legal defense funds “that take on institutional discrimination.”
Washington state organization Craft3, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) focused on investing in businesses owned by people of color, including Black and Indigenous owners, received $10 million. It is one of several CDFIs nationally to receive an investment from Scott.
“We are incredibly honored by the recognition that comes with this unprecedented gift. Community Development Financial Institutions are the front line of inclusive, equitable finance in the United States,” Adam Zimmerman, president and CEO of Craft3, said in a statement.
Scott noted she was “far from completing” her giving pledge, and urged others to follow her lead in whatever way they could: time, a voice or money.