Comer Family Foundation: Grants for Chicago

OVERVIEW: The Comer Family Foundation is the result of a merger of two of Lands' End founder Gary Comer’s philanthropic endeavors, and it is a prominent grantmaker in the city of Chicago. Topics of interest are education, healthcare, environment, and culture.

FUNDING AREAS: Education, healthcare, environment, culture

IP TAKE: This is a family foundation for nonprofits serving Chicago’s South Side to keep on their radars because almost all education, healthcare, and culture grants are awarded in this region.

PROFILE: Established in 1986, the Comer Family Foundation is the private family foundation of Gary Comer. As a lifelong resident of South Side Chicago, Gary Comer became a world-class competitive sailor, a successful copywriter, and eventually the founder of Lands’ End. From 1963 to 1991, he served as Lands’ End’s President and CEO before selling the company to Sears and turning his attention to philanthropy in 2002. Even after Comer succumbed to prostate cancer in 2006, his family has remained involved with grantees through the family philanthropy. The funder is “dedicated to seeding ideas and supporting innovative programs that make a lasting and positive impact on the lives of individuals and their communities.” Grantmaking areas of interest are education, healthcare, environment, and culture.

Comer’s education work focuses exclusively on the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. But this support is broad and encompasses academic support and college readiness, after-school enrichment, teen employment, housing, and healthcare within the sphere of education.

Comer’s culture grantmaking program is Chicago-wide and has focused on photography and its technological evolution. The foundation helped fund the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago and endows the Gary C. & Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at that institution. You can head over to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History to see the Gary C. Comer Family Gallery, which is devoted to environmental issues and sustainability.

In addition to supporting syringe exchange programs focused on harm reduction, which help control the spread of HIV nationwide, Comer also funds hospitals and healthcare centers on Chicago’s South Side. Since 2008, the foundation has partnered with Health Management Associates to optimize a better plan to care for pregnant women and children on the South Side.

In the environmental support space, Comer established a Gary Comer Abrupt Climate Change Fellowship, which funds post-docs, graduate students and technicians studying the causes and consequences of climate change. Other environmental funds have gone toward the Gary C. Comer Geochemistry Building at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and to Kilimanjaro Energy, a company developing technologies to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide for beneficial uses.

The foundation lists past climate research grants on its website and shares program-relevant stores on each of its program pages. Comer’s love for the city of Chicago has always remained a driving force in the family philanthropy. Therefore, the bulk of grantmaking stays in Chicago.

The Comer Family Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant applications for any focus area except its syringe exchange program. Grantseekers can get in touch with the staff with general questions via online contact form.


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