Three Minnesota nonprofits are the first beneficiaries of a new philanthropic fund aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and other climate change effects in diverse, low-income Minneapolis neighborhoods.
On Monday, the Minneapolis Foundation announced the initial grantees — Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, MN Renewable Now and Hourcar — for its new partnership with the McKnight Foundation and the city of Minneapolis.
The three will receive nearly $70,000 for projects that include energy audits, community outreach for electric car-sharing hubs and promotion of clean-energy sources.
The new fund, which totals more than $122,000, started with a $100,000 contribution from McKnight.
"Right now there's an urgency to take action on climate change," said R.T. Rybak, CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation and a former Minneapolis mayor. "We have not done anything like this before."
While foundations are directing more money toward environmental projects, most grants have gone to large-scale initiatives, not hyperlocal community projects like the ones supported by this new fund, Rybak said.
The Minneapolis Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in Minnesota, has increased its focus on environmental issues, holding two community meetings on the topic in the past year.
The foundation, which distributed more than $80 million in the last year, said about 10% of its funds from donors focused on environmental issues in 2017.
"The climate challenge is unique, but this allows Minneapolis to do more than its part," Rybak said. "Climate is increasingly important and is increasingly important to our donors."
Nonprofits are also working to decrease health disparities in north Minneapolis, where the Near North and Camden neighborhoods have among the highest obesity rates in Hennepin County.
North Minneapolis is also one of the city's two "green zones," an initiative to prioritize environmental funding for the city's poorest and most polluted neighborhoods.
Focusing on the North Side
Now, the Minneapolis Foundation's Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund, which was announced by Mayor Jacob Frey in April, aims to reduce greenhouse gases and address racial inequities. In addition to McKnight's donation, $22,000 was donated by the Xcel Energy Foundation, Minneapolis clothing store Askov Finlayson and other contributors.
A total of 17 applicants vied for this first round of grants. A second group of grantees will be named in November.
"What's exciting [about this grant] is it's going directly to these communities to do the work," said Julia Frost Nerbonne, who heads Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.
Her nonprofit will use a $17,500 grant to start a youth-led "environmental justice project" in September. Children and teens from several congregations will be paid to conduct energy audits, shadow energy assessors and develop a work plan to increase energy efficiency at Shiloh Temple International Ministries and a mosque, Masjid An-Nur, in north Minneapolis.
Last year, the church and mosque teamed up to build the North Side's first solar garden, powering the temple, mosque and 26 nearby homes.
"These faith communities have been central to building the moral movements … a lot of these pastors are thought leaders," Nerbonne said. "Others will follow."
MN Renewable Now will use its $25,000 for outreach in north Minneapolis to promote clean energy, such as switching to renewable electricity or upgrading heating systems.
The $25,000 to Hourcar will also support community outreach in Minneapolis that will begin in September.
The St. Paul nonprofit is partnering with Xcel Energy and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for a new electric car-sharing program. It will create 70 hubs with 150 electric cars in the Twin Cities, half of which will be in low-income areas, including north Minneapolis.
"We really want to see this service accessible for everyone, but especially for people who can't afford a car," Hourcar CEO Paul Schroeder said of the program, which he hopes will launch in 2020. "There's a recognition [those] communities don't benefit from available transportation solutions."
The Minneapolis Foundation is one of the world's oldest community foundations — a philanthropy that's mostly supported by the public rather than by a family, individual or corporation. The fund will also introduce a new way people can donate, via text messages (text climatempls to 243725 to donate). That could make donating easier and broaden the foundation's base of 1,800 donors, Rybak said.
A reminder to take action
The foundation is considering placing signs on parking ramps, the Minneapolis Convention Center and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with details of the texting project to target travelers and commuters who want a quick, easy way to give money toward climate change efforts, offsetting the greenhouse gases emitted from driving and flying.
"This fund is about money," Rybak said, "but it's also about reminding people to take action in every part of their lives."
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141