The world's largest furniture retailer gave $1.2 million to support the mental health of Minnesota students struggling to cope in difficult environments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ikea U.S. Community Foundation's donation equals the amount paid in unemployment insurance to Ikea's furloughed workers during store closures earlier this year, according to the Sweden-based company.

Javier QuiƱones, Ikea Retail U.S. president, said the company appreciates the unemployment benefits that came at a difficult time.

"We now have a better understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on our business, and we've decided to 'pay it forward' in our local communities," QuiƱones said in a news release issued by Gov. Tim Walz's office.

Walz called the gift a generous donation and a model for public-private sector cooperation.

The money will go to the School-Linked Mental Health Program, which includes 58 providers covering 1,100 sites across the state. The Minnesota Department of Human Services oversees the program. Through the service, mental health providers meet directly with children, families and teachers to provide assessments and treatment as well as training.

"COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health needs for all Minnesotans, especially our students," Walz said. "This funding will help ensure we can connect our young people with the mental health services they need and deserve."

Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead said the donation will help schools provide safety measures so students can safely receive services face-to-face or keep them connected through telemedicine.

Mental health problems afflict roughly one in five young people, according to DHS.

Students of all ages have been forced to roll with shifting scenarios since pandemic restrictions began in Minnesota in March. Depending on the level of the virus in their district, students may be trying to learn remotely, in a classroom or some combination of the two. They are also coping with the loss of extracurricular outlets and connections with friends.

In announcing the grant, Walz cited a 2019 report that found one in four middle and high school students reported feeling anxious or depressed. Addressing students' mental health needs can improve academic performance, decrease disciplinary problems and increase graduation rates.

Twitter: @rochelleolson