This article appeared in Palm Beach Daily News on February 18, 2022.
When Winsome McIntosh and her late husband, Michael, founded the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties in 1972, there were only three or four community foundations in Florida.
“We moved from New York to Palm Beach to take care of my father-in-law in 1971. My mother-in-law was the largest remaining family member ... stockholder of the A&P. That is where the money that set up the foundation came from,” McIntosh told the Daily News.
The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as the A&P, operated a grocery store chain from 1859 through 2015. From 1915 through 1975, it was the largest grocery retailer in the United States. Following a bankruptcy filing, it closed in 2015.
“I was in my 20s, Michael was in his 30s, and we had a baby. He had come and gone from Palm Beach for years with his family, so he was somewhat familiar with it,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh, who now lives in Washington, D.C., and is a frequent visitor to Palm Beach, is the guest of honor at the foundation’s Golden Anniversary Founders Luncheon on Wednesday.
Starting with the original $50,000 seed money, the foundation, which is headquartered in downtown West Palm Beach, is now the lead philanthropic funder in Palm Beach and Martin counties. Aimed at transforming communities by tackling difficult issues such as homelessness and hunger by dispensing grants to an array of nonprofits, it also funds scholarships.
“Our goal is to make our region strong and vibrant for all who call Palm Beach and Martin Counties home, and we’ve been advancing that purpose through grantmaking and scholarships for 50 years,'' said Danita Nias, president and CEO of the foundation since March.
“In that time, we’ve partnered with 3,400 nonprofit organizations ─ researching, vetting, and analyzing their effectiveness all along the way, to amplify the impact of our donors’ dollars and boost our nonprofit community’s change-making work,” she said.
Since its beginning, the foundation has awarded $200 million in grants and scholarships.
Palm Beach resident Julie Fisher Cummings, the foundation’s board chairman, said, “As we look forward to the next 50 years, we see clear ways to increase our impact and close our community’s gaps on pressing needs like mental and physical health, hunger and access to basic resources that impede our area’s economic progress.
“Philanthropy has the power to transform life for our neighbors in every corner of our county, not just for now, but forever by addressing the causes, and the consequences, of unmet societal issues,” Fisher Cummings said.
The foundation also stepped in during the pandemic when a lot of philanthropists were inspired to help solve problems that were exacerbated, such as hunger, housing, and health care.
In 2020, the foundation created the COVID-19 Response Fund, raising more than $2.7 million and distributing 185 relief grants. The funds were used toward everything from personal protective equipment to food and meal distribution, technology for at-home learning, rental assistance, and more.
“The mental health crisis deepened in a significant way, particularly among children who lost their parents, grandparents and other caregivers to the pandemic, as well as the social and educational challenges that were the side effects of virtual learning,” Nias said.
The foundation has supported other emergencies, such as providing more than $1 million in relief support for the Bahamas when Hurricane Dorian hit in 2019. J. Ira and Nicki Harris of Palm Beach matched that fund’s first $100,000 donated.
Numerous Palm Beach County residents have set up funds at the foundation, and such donors are known as fundholders. They include philanthropist Nancy Marshall of West Palm Beach, whose passion is educating children about the importance of sustainability and natural resources. She created two designated endowed funds at the foundation.
Marshall’s mission includes taking children on field trips to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge west of Boynton Beach, where they learn about the Everglades and its wildlife. The refuge is named after her late husband John Marshall’s uncle.
What a community foundation does
The foundation’s projects over the years have included helping to support the creation of the Palm Beach County Food Bank.
McIntosh explained that a community foundation differs from a private foundation in that it supports a variety of initiatives funded by separate donors.
A community foundation allows donors to establish a customized charitable fund without being burdened by the tax liabilities and administrative hassles associated with setting up a private foundation. The giving can be personalized to support the donors’ passions and causes whether it’s cancer research or substance abuse.
Many community fund donors also have private foundations.
“If people want to give money away in their community, but do not want to set up a private foundation, they can avoid that by setting up a fund within the community foundation,” McIntosh said.
The community foundation knows where the needs are and provides donors with a way to meet those needs without having to do their own research. Donations also can be given directly to the foundation outside of the projects financed by fundholders.
McIntosh is president and trustee of the McIntosh Foundation in Washington, D.C. The foundation, which started in 1949, focuses on environmental issues with the goal of making a difference in environmental public policy.
McIntosh also serves on the board of Earth Justice, a public interest law firm for environmental issues with offices in Tallahassee and Miami. She also founded ClientEarth in Europe and serves as its chairman and serves as chairman at Defenders of Wildlife.
In the early days of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, McIntosh recalls a friend taking her and her husband to Belle Glade. During their visit, the McIntoshes were struck by the difference between living conditions and poverty in western Palm Beach County’s farming region, and the coast.
“We decided that number one, as a new foundation and now a new resident we should leave some money in the community,” McIntosh said.
The Council on Foundations, a national association of foundations, was encouraging people to start more community foundations in hopes of transforming their communities. Today, there are more than 30 community foundations in Florida and more than 700 in the United States.
“We decided to start one in West Palm Beach and encourage particularly people in Palm Beach, in our neighborhood, to think beyond this being just a winter retreat, but by leaving some of their money in the community as well,” McIntosh said.
“The first 10 years we were giving money to the foundation, and we put together an independent board. They were responsible for giving it away to the needs of the wider community,“ McIntosh said. “We did that for 10 years, then we realized we needed to hire a staff and professionalize it and get it beyond our own money. At that point, we found Shannon Sadler, who turned out to be absolutely brilliant.”
Sadler grew the community foundation into a formidable entity, McIntosh said. In 2012, she was honored for her 28 years with the foundation and credited with taking it from a small nonprofit with a single desk drawer into one of the largest organizations of its kind.
Continuing a legacy
McIntosh, now 77, works at the McIntosh Foundation every day. Her husband passed away seven years ago, and she wants to continue the legacy.
While charity is taking care of individual needs right now, such as operating a food bank or a women’s shelter, philanthropy is taking on issues for the longer term.
“You have to understand that problems never go away. They shift. They may improve, but to actually eliminate something takes generations sometimes,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh plans to keep working but eventually will turn over the McIntosh Foundation to her three sons.
“I am out of the grieving process, finally. We were married for 48 years. I’m not ready to change anything yet,” McIntosh said.
“My mother lived to be 94. I imagine I may have a long life ahead of me as well. If that is the case, I do not want to be in a rocking chair, and I have never been a lady who lunches. I will continue to stay involved.
"There are a lot of women in Palm Beach just like me. They have stayed involved,” she said. “You do not have to retire just because of your age.”
McIntosh said she expects she will ultimately return to Palm Beach as a resident.
“I have kept all my connections. I have a lot of friends down there,” McIntosh said.