Philadelphia is a city of underdogs. A place where working-class roots and an enduring commitment to the ethos of Brotherly Love combine; Where a collective spirit to succeed in the face of adversity can be felt from Packer Avenue to Pennypack Park, from Cobbs Creek to the crest of the Delaware River.
Most days, that shared resolve – a willingness to stand together against all odds – is seen when a SEPTA commuter offers a steady hand to the elderly passenger. Or when a neighbor brings a hot meal to a grieving mother’s home. Or when community members volunteer their time teaching job skills to Philadelphia children. It drives innovation in technology and healthcare, spurs civic action through grassroots movements and, on a few occasions, it even thunders our teams toward championships.
Now that same collective spirit fuels Philadelphia forward amid a worldwide public health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the region, nation and world came to grips with the post-COVID-19 reality, leaders in Philadelphia emerged, their tenacity present from Center City board rooms to church parking lots.
The City of Philadelphia collaborated with the Philadelphia Foundation and United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to create the PHL COVID-19 Fund. The rapid response fund provides resources to frontline nonprofits serving our most vulnerable populations. More than $13 million has already been distributed to community organizations that are using the dollars to help those in need.
As school systems around the country grappled with a transition to distance learning, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts made a $5 million donation toward the purchase of 50,000 laptops for Philly public school students.
Help comes in other forms too. Neighbors collected personal protective equipment to donate to area hospitals in need. Local fashion designers and sewing enthusiasts used their skills to make masks. Drexel University pooled its institutional talents to design improved PPE that can be rapidly manufactured, washed and reused.
A group of friends created “Fuel the Fight,” a campaign raising money to pay local restaurants to prepare and deliver meals to local hospitals. Community organizer Sam Samuel transformed into the “Food Fairy of West Philly,” shuttling meals from distribution sites to her Mantua neighbors. Dr. Ala Stanford formed the Black Doctors COVID19 Consortium, a group of medical professionals who bring coronavirus tests directly to underserved black communities.
The pandemic’s deep impact on the city has not gone unnoticed by Philly’s most famous. Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid acted within days of the shelter-in-place orders. He donated $500,000 to #FirstRespondersFirst and pledged to help impacted 76ers employees, a stance that prodded the franchise to maintain employee salaries while the NBA was on hold.
Like the vision he brings to the court, Sixers point guard Ben Simmons’ forward-thinking brought us “The Philly Pledge,” which directs donors to verified local nonprofits dedicated to battling COVID-19. The initiative quickly gained big-name backers with big contributions, like the $500,000 gift from Phillies slugger Bryce Harper and wife Kayla.
Other athletes stepped up too. Power couple Zach and Julie Ertz, whose hardware includes a Super Bowl ring and a FIFA World Cup medal, donated $100,000 to Philabundance.
Even more celebrity power combined to help fight food insecurity, thanks to Sixers co-owner and Kynetic CEO Michael Rubin. Tapping his national contacts in the sports, business and entertainment worlds, Rubin’s “All In Challenge” raised more than $40 million through individual donations. Much came from one-of-a-kind sweepstakes and auctions of unique experiences – such as a BBQ at your home hosted by The Jonas Brothers, or a round of golf with Phil Mickelson.
Grammy-winners Pink and Questlove honored their origins by supporting the city that raised them. Born Alecia Moore, Pink gave $500,000 to the Temple University Hospital Fund in honor of her mother, Judy, after the singer and her three-year-old son were treated for and recovered from the virus. Questlove, the Roots drummer, was among the headliners of PHLove, a concert for COVID-19 relief presented by the Middleton family that generated a huge amount of money for the cause.
The donations, dollars, time and sweat equity, are greatly appreciated. But another necessary element to Philadelphia’s recovery can’t be gifted. It’s the hard-earned mettle within each of us. It’s the resilience we call on to endure hardship and overcome adversity.
The fissures COVID-19 formed in our foundation will become chasms, if we let them. Philadelphia, a city of underdogs, is prepared to put up a fight.
Alison Burdo is a Senior Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office.