Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefits Program

Gathering community input to sprout change.

It is not every day that an entire community has the  opportunity to weigh in on a grant process. However, that is exactly what happened when two state agencies, the New York Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Environmental Conservation, selected the Community Foundation to administer the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefits Program (EBP) – an over $900,000 grant program with funds obtained from a previous settlement reached by the State over environmental violations at the former Tonawanda Coke facility.

The State relied on the Community Foundation as a trusted partner to work with the community to develop and carry out an equitable process to distribute dollars and make a positive impact on the environment.

The primary goal of the Tonawanda Community EBP was to fund projects that will improve the environment or public health in the Tonawanda community, geographically defined as: Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Village of Kenmore, the southern part of the Town of Grand Island, and Buffalo’s Riverside neighborhood.

The Community Foundation convened a Community Advisory Panel of 12 area leaders to work with the State every step of the way to create a fair, transparent and inclusive way for residents to participate.

In the fall of 2021, nearly 3,000 residents ages 16 and older learned about environmental projects and cast their ballots for a variety of small to medium and large-scale environmental projects that would directly impact their community. Participants cast their ballots on a special website,, designed for easy balloting. Recognizing that digital access is a challenge for some, residents were able to cast ballots in person at six libraries in the affected communities. Area residents worked with the Community Foundation to promote participation with a broad social media campaign, lawn signs, posters and ads in local newspapers. The final projects selected for funding by the State directly mirrored the results of the community balloting process.

Grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 for small- to medium-scale projects include:

  • Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and Environment: “Plant for Nature! Ecological Gardening for Community Health and Native Plant Giveaway”
  • Citizen Science Community Resources: “Community Victory Garden”
  • Erie County Department of Environment and Planning: “Subsidized Community Rain Barrel/Compost Bin Sale”
  • Kenmore Village Improvement Society: “Treasure Our Trees and Save the Bees”
  • Town of Tonawanda Public Library: “Rain Garden and Welcoming Outdoor Public Space at Kenilworth Library”
  • Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District: “Tree Planting and Beautification at Edison Elementary School”
  • City of Tonawanda Public Library: “City of Tonawanda Public Library Community Reading Garden”
  • Erie County Department of Environment and Planning: “Senior Focused E-Waste Collection”
  • Thomas Edison PTA: “Thomas Edison Parent-Teacher Association Community Garden”
  • Project Pride of North Tonawanda: “Manhattan Street Rain Garden Improvements”

Grants ranging from $25,001 to $250,000 for projects larger in scale and scope:

  • Town of Tonawanda: “Kenney Field Park Multi-Use Trail, Inclusive Playground and Mural Wall”
  • Western New York Land Conservancy: “Creating New Nature Preserves, Improving Public Access, Restoring Wildlife Habitat, and Offering Environmental Education”
  • Clean Air Coalition: “Organizing Our Environmental Justice Values in Action”
  • Niagara River Greenway Commission: “Building Stewardship and Strengthening Pride of the Greater Tonawanda Community”

This story is featured in our 2021 Annual Report