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Local United Way gets $10M donation from Amazon fortune
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Local United Way gets $10M donation from Amazon fortune

MacKenzie Scott

The United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona received a $10 million donation Tuesday, the largest in the organization’s nearly 100-year history.

The funds will be used to “fight racial and economic disparities, address COVID-19 relief and meet other pressing community needs throughout the region,” according to a news release from the organization.

The donation came from MacKenzie Scott, an author, philanthropist and ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Scott announced the donation Tuesday as part of her effort to give away her vast fortune during her lifetime. She pledged to donate nearly $4.2 billion to 384 organizations that fulfill basic needs during the coronavirus pandemic, such as food banks, or “long-term systemic inequities that have been deepened by the crisis,” including debt relief and employment training.

“The need is great, and this gift could not have come at a better time,” Edmund Marquez, board chair of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, said in a news release Tuesday.

“Funds will start going out into the community immediately, through designated community partners who’ve joined us in the fight for racial equity and other pressing needs, and we’ll continue to work aggressively to raise additional funds to show Ms. Scott how the magnitude of her investment can be multiplied,” Marquez said.

The donation will help continue ongoing efforts, such as the United for Southern Arizona Covid-19 Fund, which provides rent assistance, mortgage assistance, food, diapers, medication and other help, said Tony Penn, president and CEO of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona. That fund supports about 30 other agencies, such as food banks and Catholic Community Services, he said. Also among groups receiving donations from Scott are the YMCA of Southern Arizona and YWCA of Southern Arizona, though details were not immediately available Tuesday evening.

The funds also will help address racial and economic disparities in Southern Arizona through career help, financial literacy and other measures, Penn said.

“Being born in a specific socio-economically challenged ZIP code should not reflect on the outcome of your life,” Penn said.

Penn hopes the donation will “triple our impact” from helping 175,000 people each year to helping about 500,000 people three years from now.

“Nonprofits play a vital role in our community. These past 10 months have demonstrated just how necessary they are for our community to continue to thrive. We have remained resilient in making sure we serve our community’s most critical needs.

Scott’s donation to the YMCA of Southern Arizona was “substantial and will have a long-lasting impact on our community,” according to a statement from the organization.

“Ms. Scott’s generosity allows us to continue to be resilient in meeting our community’s most pressing needs as well as develop plans to grow our impact in the future,” said Kurtis Dawson, CEO of the YMCA of Southern Arizona. “To be selected as one of the 384 organizations she has chosen to support is humbling and we will honor her generosity through continuing to serve those who need us most today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Scott and her team reviewed nearly 6,500 groups before selecting the 384 recipients, according to the news release. The donation came six months after Scott donated $1.67 billion to “organizations focusing on racial and gender equity, economic mobility, climate change, and other issues.”

Scott’s net worth is more than $60 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Her fortune grew more than $23 billion in the past year. She is a major shareholder of Amazon and one of the company’s first employees.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at or 573-4224.

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