By Leonard Freeman

Trinity Church Wall Street in New York is sometimes kiddingly referred to as “the Anglican Province of Lower Manhattan.” A 1705 land grant from Britain’s Queen Anne turned out to be most of what we now know as lower Manhattan. On the strength of some of the most expensive real estate on earth, the church has grown an $8 billion endowment and an extensive ministry of service throughout the New York metropolitan region and the world. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen it responding creatively in both spheres.

In the New York area the parish announced in April direct $25,000 grants to 17 organizations for immediate aid, totaling $425,000, as well as a more systemic investment of $2 million towards the long term well-being of nonprofit organizations working in the New York human services and arts sectors.

According to Chief Philanthropy Officer Neill Coleman, both approaches are meant to speak to the parish’s long-term strategic initiatives for addressing homelessness and the problems of the criminal justice system, with a focus on racial disparity.

“Implicit in our COVID-19 response is an intention to do so in a way that is targeted  — aligned with — ending the cycles of mass incarceration and mass homelessness, with a deliberate racial justice focus; because, overwhelmingly, people of color are the ones most caught in these cycles and the COVID pandemic has just added to their distress,” he said.

“Trinity’s grants program is faith driven,” says Coleman. “Our NYC model is to work with agencies that are both faith connected and those who are not but meld with our values.” The 17 recipient agencies were already Trinity grantees with solid records of effectiveness; “so the due diligence and paperwork etc. were already done, which meant that we could turn around grants very quickly… this is a rapidly moving crisis and time is of the essence.”

Longer term, Trinity will leverage its participation in a philanthropic effort of the Nonprofit Finance Fund to help a variety of nonprofits stay afloat with focused operating loans. “There are two kinds of need for nonprofits,” Coleman says. “Some have lost revenue and are in immediate direct need…. that’s what our direct grants speak to.” But for others the issue is slowed revenue streams, whether from government or other sources. “We’ve heard from our own grantees that the slowness was a significant difficulty,” so a NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund will provide operating loans to undergird the programs. And Trinity’s $2 million, of $44 million loaned thus far, will be repaid over three to five years “and then turn back into grants for 2024 on.”

According to the Trinity Grants strategic initiative statements: “Mass homelessness has reached an all-time high in New York City, with more than 60,000 people, including 22,000 children — over 25 percent of whom are under the age of five — sleeping in shelters each night, and an estimated 4,000 adults sleeping on the streets and in subways. With over 90 percent of people in the shelter system self-identifying as Black or Latino, there is no denying that homelessness disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

“Our strategy,” says Coleman, “is very much designed to meet the needs of those cycles and to break the cycle for those caught in those systems.”

The Rev. Phillip A. Jackson, who has been priest-in-charge and vicar of Trinity Church Wall Street since January, echoed the local COVID response intentions in a letter to the congregation. “The grants and loans will go to support those who are homeless and those who are involved in the criminal justice system, who will suffer disproportionately in this crisis… the funds will also help needs as basic as food and cleaning supplies, as well as digital access for caseworkers and homeless schoolchildren.” In the immediate neighborhood the Trinity Commons team has been providing brown bag lunches and gift cards to local grocery stores, while arranging food shipments to several partner organizations to help low-income families and seniors.

Guided by its core values of faith, integrity, inclusiveness, compassion, social justice, and stewardship, the parish has also been responding to the pandemic internationally as a primary resource for the wider Anglican Communion. The parish recently made a $1 million grant to Episcopal Relief and Development for Global COVID-19 aid, and is in the process of arranging 15 to 30 direct grants in Africa and elsewhere, to help church institutions there with sanitation and health supplies, food, economic dislocation, property, and communication needs.