It was the call that philanthropists dream of.
An anonymous donor wanted to give $34 million to benefit underserved residents in Oakland. And the donor wanted that money “in the streets” by the summer. The staffer at the San Francisco Foundation who answered the phone in February knew this was big – for the foundation, but mostly for Oakland.A $34 million cold call to benefit the Bay Area’s most embattled city was unheard of, said Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, which was founded in 1948, has a $1.3 billion endowment and gives about $90 million annually in grants to nonprofits across the Bay Area.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Blackwell said at a Tuesday news conference at the East Oakland Youth Development Center attended by dozens of community leaders in government and other nonprofit community groups. “We have never gotten a phone call like that in the past."The money will be invested in jobs, housing, education and health care across Oakland, with a full $6 million to support Oakland’s public schools on early childhood education, African-American student achievement and adding community coordinators.About one-third of the funds are earmarked for nonprofits specifically focused on East Oakland.
The foundation estimates 813 jobs will be created and 136 new affordable housing units built in those neighborhoods.Councilman Larry Reid said he’s never seen such a large investment during his time at City Hall. He was pleased that several groups in his district – deep East Oakland – received help. The East Oakland Youth Development Center, which was granted $1 million, is a safe refuge for kids to take shelter from the storm.
"If they aren’t finding love at home, they can be loved and nurtured here,” Reid said. “This could be the difference between young people dying on the streets or doing something constructive with their life.”
Citywide, the money will help fund 731 new affordable housing units and create about 2,500 jobs.
News of the cash infusion was music to the ears of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who thanked the “generous soul” who recognized the potential of the city. Officials would not provide any additional information on the mystery donor.
Schaaf said the foundation – and the donor – share the city’s vision for an equitable, vibrant Oakland where all citizens can find economic independence.
Partnering with like-minded philanthropists is vital for the region, especially as rents rise and more people flock to the city, Schaaf added. “Government can’t do it alone,” she said.
And there are shameful disparities in Oakland. Schaaf said the prosperity must be shared across the city to “make sure Oakland stays our Oakland,” she said.
A good portion of the money was focused on technology opportunities. Oakland Codes, housed at the San Francisco Foundation, received $4 million.
Money was also given to support community re-entry programs for ex-cons and other housing initiatives.
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, for example, received $1 million to create a restaurant worker training program to help formerly incarcerated residents find jobs that pay a livable wage.