Validation: Philanthropist gifts $5 million to United Way

United Way of Southern Cameron County has a received a major recognition of its work in the form of a $5 million gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

It is the largest gift in the nonprofit’s 65-year history.

The donation was announced on Dec. 15 as part of a nearly $4.2 billion charitable blitz Scott embarked on after determining to deliver “immediate support to people suffering the economic effects of the crisis” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, she posted on the online publishing platform Medium.

FILE – In this March 4, 2018 file photo, then-MacKenzie Bezos arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif. A donation from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott to Virginia State University has become the largest single donor gift in the historically Black college’s history. The $30 million donation by Scott was announced Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in a post that detailed the nearly $4.2 billion in gifts given to nonprofit organizations by the philanthropist in 2020. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

UWSCC was one of 384 community organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. targeted by Scott, who is also the ex-wife of Amazon founder, CEO and President Jeff Bezos.

“This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote on Medium. “Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”

She wrote that it would have been easy for “all the people who drew the long demographic straws in this crisis” to hole up and wait things out, but in fact community aid efforts have proliferated in response to the suffering, which Scott said inspired her to dial up her giving in 2020. The 384 recipient organizations were chosen after Scott’s group of advisers consulted with hundreds of nonprofit leaders and volunteers, funders and experts, she wrote. What followed as “thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding,” Scott wrote.

Traci Wickett, UWSCC president and CEO, described the $5 million gift as transformational and a huge validation of UWSCC’s track record in the community.

“I’m just beside myself to tell you the truth,” she said. “It’s the most incredible thing that has happened in my 25 years at United Way of Southern Cameron County.”

Crew watch the video feeds for host Michael J. Limas and guest Mayor Trey Mendez Thursday at the United We Give holiday telethon benefitting United Way of Southern Cameron County at the Brownsville Performing Arts Academy. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Wickett said her organization is grateful and humbled to be included among the 384 nonprofits, and that she hopes it inspires the community “to realize that someone has that much belief in us and desires to support us in accomplishing our work.”

“Her desire also is that her gift will inspire even more people to join us in that work,” Wickett said. “This is meant to augment community giving. This is not meant to replace community giving.”

Scott’s support will allow UWSCC to continue its daily mission of “fighting for the health, education and stability of every person in our community” while also providing “incredible resources” to come up with innovative ways to solve the community’s most pressing problems, Wickett said.

“This gift is a testament to the hard work and unflagging dedication to our mission by the staff, board, donors, volunteers and partners,” she said. “Their belief that there is no problem we can’t tackle if we are united positioned (UWSCC) for this significant gift and recognition.”

Volunteer Jacob Perez waits to help distribute food to the next line of cars Friday morning at United Way of Southern Cameron County’s United Against Hunger food distribution outside the Brownsville Event Center. Each year several local nonprofits participate in the Big Give event to help fundraise supplemental funds for their programs.(Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

Among the criteria Scott used to size up potential recipients was whether a nonprofit supported people who had lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Wickett noted that UWSCC has been doing exactly that with United Against Hunger, an initiative launched in April to boost the capacity of local pantries and soup kitchens by paying furloughed restaurant workers to apply their skills to food-distribution efforts, helping to ensure no family goes hungry during the pandemic.

“I almost felt like we got a little shout out, because she talks about … helping furloughed workers without access to employer based benefits, and I thought, ooh, I think that’s us,” Wickett said.

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