The Thornburg Foundation announced last week it is contributing $250,000 to help kick-start Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new COVID-19 relief fund, which aims to provide food and health aid in New Mexico areas hit hardest by the pandemic.

Private contributions for the fund will be matched by federal grants at a rate of up to $3 for every dollar donated. That means the Thornburg Foundation’s $250,000 gift could result in up to $1 million in aid.

Established by the state Department of Finance and Administration and the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the NM COVID-19 Emergency Match Fund allows the state government to seek reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its 3-to-1 match of private donations.

“This fund is very unique in the grant world,” said Allan Oliver, executive director of the Thornburg Foundation.

In the past, the Santa Fe-based foundation has invested in health, education and community resources such as homeless shelters, with a focus on boosting food security, Oliver said.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation also has engaged in relief work, providing grants to The Food Depot, shelters and community clinics, including La Familia Medical Center.

It also has been working directly with the Native American Relief Fund and the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association, Oliver said.

As soon as the Thornburg Foundation found out about Lujan Grisham’s plan to launch the FEMA-supported fund, it quickly got involved, he said. “We really wanted to step up in a way that feels significant,” Oliver said.

This latest contribution brings the Thornburg Foundation’s total amount of pandemic-related aid to nearly $940,000.

Oliver said the aid is especially necessary in the Native community, which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Many Native communities are still under lockdown, making food access increasingly difficult — something The Food Depot has been working to remedy.

“The additional funding from the NM COVID-19 Emergency Match Fund will guarantee that we can continue to deliver millions of meals to families in crisis,” said Sherry Hooper, executive director of The Food Depot.

Oliver said he is confident the governor’s new fund will be used to make a difference. But, he added, more help is needed.

“Even as the state begins to reopen, New Mexico’s COVID-19 health crisis and the resulting food emergency are real and ongoing. We urge other donors to join us in this fight,” Oliver said.

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By Hannah Laga Abram