Community Foundation of Greater Memphis Leans In to COVID-19 Response Through Public-Private Partnership

This is the fourth in a series of Messenger articles highlighting GSL parishioners serving our community with nonprofit organizations. If you know of a parishioner whose volunteer or professional work should be featured in a future article, please email James Drummond at drummondjamesf at

The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, an organization dedicated to effective philanthropy, established the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund in March 2020 in cooperation with the City of Memphis and other partners. GSL provided a $3,000 grant to the COVID Fund. However, that is not the only connection between GSL and the Community Foundation as GSL parishioners Julia McDonald and Elizabeth Warren are key staff members. Julia is the organization’s Vice President of Marketing & Communications while Elizabeth serves as the Director of Grants & Initiatives.

Elizabeth Warren & Julia McDonald

Elizabeth And Julia

A lifelong parishioner at GSL, Julia grew up in our community worshiping with her parents, Tom and Carolyn Chesney. Julia has served on the vestry and has participated in the Pastoral Care ministry. She has lived in Memphis all her life except for stints in Philadelphia and Dallas for undergraduate and graduate education. Her seven-year-old daughter Janie attends St. Mary’s Episcopal School.

Elizabeth, also a lifelong Episcopalian, came to us from Jackson, Mississippi. She joined our parish in 2013 after graduating from Rhodes and is involved with the GSL Young Adult program. Elizabeth also served as a lector until as she put it “became too pregnant and unsteady on my feet to stand in front of the church.” Her son Henry was born January 10 of this year. Elizabeth also has a couple of serendipitous connections to Father Ollie, namely that he is the godfather of Elizabeth’s nephew. Elizabeth’s brother Cooper and his family live in Charlotte, NC, and attend church at St. Peter’s where Ollie+ served on the clergy team prior to being called to GSL.
Founded in 1969, the Community Foundation manages charitable funds—enabling individuals, families, and companies to set up investment accounts and direct grants to nonprofits. Elizabeth says that because the foundation works with a large and diverse group of donors and nonprofits, it has a “bird’s eye view” of the charitable challenges and opportunities in the greater Memphis area.

On March 15, Mayor Strickland’s administration asked the Community Foundation to spearhead the formation of a coronavirus response fund, which would serve as the unified community relief initiative for supporting organizations and those they serve impacted by the pandemic. The Foundation had the Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund up and running within a week. COVID Fund partners also include Shelby County Government, United Way of the Mid-South, and Momentum Nonprofit Partners/Mid-South Philanthropy Network.

Over 500 donors have contributed $4.2 million to this collective relief effort thus far. The lead-off gift was $250,000 from Nike. Other major support includes $500,000 from the PepsiCo Foundation, specifically to aid Black and Latino communities, and the Kresge and Hearst Foundations. The COVID Fund also has received significant individual support, including from several GSL parishioners.

In its first, immediate relief phase that ran March to June, the COVID Fund granted $2,406,500 to 91 distinct organizations across the region. In the second, recovery and resiliency phase running July to September, the Fund will award another $1.8 million to nonprofits that are directly responding to the significant consequences of, and disparities exacerbated by, this public health crisis.

Mid-South COVID-19 Regional Response Fund grants have been awarded to several GSL Outreach grantees including MIFA, Kindred Place, Friends for Life, Neighborhood Christian Center, Church Health, and Thistle & Bee Enterprises.

Besides setting up investment accounts at the foundation, individuals can also participate in Community Foundation’s signature dollar-a-day giving program called GiVE 365. GiVE 365 allows members to pool their donations with others to make grants to non-profits based on an annual theme. It’s an engaging, fun way to learn about a wide range of nonprofits, make a strategic economic impact, and interact with other community-minded Memphians over the grant year. Elizabeth added that a number of GSL parishioners have been dedicated GiVE 365 members since it began in 2010.

Please join the Outreach Committee in recognizing Julia, Elizabeth, and the Community Foundation for their support of Memphians in need during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their service to the community over the long term.  

James Drummond
GSL Outreach Committee