Milwaukee, Wis., May 4, 2020 – The Greater Milwaukee Foundation has received a $1 million grant to its MKE Responds Fund from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of the national philanthropy’s $50 million effort to provide humanitarian aid to help some of the families and communities feeling the greatest strain under the COVID-19 health emergency.

“We are honored to be chosen by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for this award and very encouraged to be attracting this significant investment to our community,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “This grant is an acknowledgement of the Foundation placing racial equity at the forefront of our work and a reflection of the collective approach our region and partners have embraced to address the pandemic and ensure that our efforts focus on identifying and addressing the systemic inequities that have resulted in the tragically disparate impact of this crisis on communities of color.” 

GMF organized and is helping lead a cross-sector coalition to strategically, equitably and rapidly respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in our region. This MKE Civic Response Team is developing new systems to identify greatest needs, align resources and coordinate relief efforts around the critical and intersecting priorities of food, housing/shelter, physical health, mental health, early childhood education and K-12 schools to ensure greater Milwaukee’s economic recovery and overall well-being now and in the future. 

The MKE Civic Response Team is focusing specific attention on the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on communities of color in and around Milwaukee. The already present health and economic inequities that especially disadvantage black and Latinx residents predispose these communities to severe illness from COVID-19, which has led to an elevated death rate. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s commitment will mean more resources can be dedicated to reducing those negative outcomes.

Joining the Foundation in providing key leadership for the MKE Civic Response Team are United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, Zilber Family Foundation, City of Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, Bader Philanthropies, Teach for America, Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Succeeds. 

Among the resources GMF brings to the coalition is the MKE Responds Fund, which supports Milwaukee-area organizations providing relief and recovery efforts for communities disproportionately impacted by the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus. Including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant, the Fund has now received more than $3.2 million in gifts and commitments. To-date, the Fund has made more than $850,000 in grants to community organizations.

In addition to the MKE Responds Fund, Foundation donors have recommended nearly $900,000 in grants directly to COVID-19-related causes. The Foundation has awarded more than $1.8 million in Board-directed grants directly to COVID-19-related causes in addition to the MKE Responds Fund. Taken together, the Foundation’s total commitment to COVID-19 relief in our region through donor, Board and external gifts through GMF is over $5.5 million and is continuing to grow.

Learn more about the Foundation’s response to COVID-19 and our community’s collective effort on the Responding Together pages of our website.

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

About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is Wisconsin’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has inspired philanthropy by connecting generous people to community needs that align with their interests. The Foundation was founded on the premise that generosity can unlock an individual’s potential and strengthen the community as a whole for everyone who lives here. We work in partnership with those who are committed to ensuring greater Milwaukee is a vibrant, economically thriving region that comprises welcoming and inclusive communities providing opportunity, prosperity and a high quality of life for all.

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