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Bezos Earth Fund donates $5M to Delaware projects

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Claymont Riverfront Park

CLAYMONT – A barren patch of land near the Pennsylvania border that was once part of a steel mill may be a step closer to becoming a beautiful public park after the support of the Bezos Earth Fund.

The $10 billion charitable foundation established by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos aims to address climate and nature within the current decade, tackling conservation efforts, sustainable agriculture, environmental justice, renewable energy and emerging technologies, among other goals.

In its latest $50 million round of grants approved in July that aimed at greening urban spaces nationwide, three Delaware initiatives received a total of $5 million.

“Access to nature is deeply unequal, and the importance of green spaces to underserved communities is often overlooked and unaddressed,” said Lauren Sánchez, vice chair of the Bezos Earth Fund, in a statement. “Green spaces make a city more beautiful, livable, healthy, and joyful, but studies show that they also lower extreme summer temperatures, reducing heat stress. They support the mental and physical health of communities and even improve students’ academic performance. This $400 million commitment will impact communities across the country, making a tangible difference people can see.”

Delaware received three grants in total, with the largest being $3 million to New Castle Prevention Coalition (NCPC), an organization dedicated to promoting environmental and social justice for urban youth, to restore eight neighborhood-based parks spanning 300 acres in the Route 9 Community.

The NCPC will support the enhancement of existing community gardens and create native plant gardens, enhanced tree canopy for reduced heat and pollution, recreational nature trails with safety lighting, and educational exhibits. In addition, the NCPC will fund 20 to 30 youth jobs within the park system as well as an entrepreneurship training program.

“Every day we experience the impact climate change has on our communities,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said. “We thank the Bezos Fund for investing to address the crisis in our communities.”

The second largest grant was $1.5 million to the Claymont Community Coalition (CCC), a grassroots organization partnering with the Claymont Renaissance Development Corp. (CRDC), to begin development of the future Riverfront Park at the former Worth steel mill off Philadelphia Pike.

Brett Saddler, executive director of the CRDC, said that legislative connections got their application before Bezos, who approved the funding. He noted that officials from the Bezos Earth Fund and the National Wildlife Federation, which is partnering on the grants, visited the Claymont site in early August.

“They were really, really excited about funding this park,” he said.

The grant is the biggest chunk of funding yet, as the CCC also received $1 million for the park in the state’s Fiscal Year 2023 bond bill. Plans are just beginning to take shape for the park that will include the banks of the Delaware River, but Saddler said the grant would be a big help for the $20 million to $30 million project.

“This opens up a huge door for us here,” he added. “I got vibes that there could be more funding happening from Bezos, but also when we go out to find additional funding now, we carry a bit more gravitas.”

Also receiving funding was the Delaware Community Foundation, which received $500,000 to support the hiring of a fellow to assist and support future Bezos Earth Fund applicants while also covering some site planning costs, community engagement activities and asset mapping initiatives.

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