One year ago, on March 11, COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. In the months that followed, more than 22,000 Canadian lives were claimed by the virus and countless others have been affected in numerous ways.
For more than a century, United Way Centraide has raised funds to support important community-based social programs that improve lives and empower every Canadian to reach their full potential. That work is carried out by our network of 3,500 community service agencies who confront #UNIGNORABLE issues like poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, hunger, racism and social isolation every day. During the best of times, there is a persistent and significant need for community-based social service supports. When times are tough, as 2020 has shown us, the inequities in our communities are amplified and those needs increase dramatically. Stay-at-home orders, the closure of non-essential businesses nationwide, and the furloughs that followed not only placed a disproportionate burden on the most vulnerable, they created a whole new group of vulnerable people overnight.
For the past year, the work of United Way Centraide has been singularly focused on supporting our communities as they contended with the effects of the pandemic. There is no playbook response for an unprecedented event such as this. Nevertheless, within days of the WHO’s announcement, our national network of United Way and Centraides mobilized quickly to do what we do best – bring people together to raise funds through our Local Love in a Global Crisis fund, leverage our local expertise to provide immediate resources to our community service partners, and make sure no one would be left behind.
In the weeks and months that followed, United Way Centraide was ready, willing, and ideally positioned to do more. Recognizing the strength of our nationwide network of local United Way and Centraides, the Government of Canada chose us as partners to invest $9M from their New Horizons Seniors Fund, and provide immediate emergency relief funds to community service agencies supporting seniors. Later, we were again called on by the government to be one of three national organizations to help administer a portion of the $350M Emergency Community Support Fund, which provided rapid support to critical frontline community service agencies who were stretched thin, allowing them to adapt their services and provide urgent support to vulnerable groups who were being impacted by the pandemic.. In October, to help connect a growing number of vulnerable people in Canada to services and supports, the 211 information and referral service expanded nationwide.
A year later, we’re working hard to build on these efforts and continue to support Canadian communities through the pandemic. For many organizations serving vulnerable people, support from United Way Centraide helped soften the blow from COVID-19 and helped many of them to continue their important work. Now, in cooperation with other national service charities, we’re advocating for further funding to help these organizations continue to deliver the vital services Canadians are counting on during these challenging times. Additionally, helping Canadians connect to available services has never been more important. The funding provided to expand 211 nationwide was only temporary, and we want to see 211 become a permanent component of Canada’s social infrastructure.
Thankfully, as we mark this anniversary, vaccination programs are beginning to ramp up. The important work of building back better is beginning in earnest, and United Way Centraide Canada aims to help lead the way.
About New Horizons Seniors Program
From the outset of the pandemic, it was clear seniors, as an at-risk population, were going to face severe outcomes. Many isolated elderly were detached from vital support networks and faced very real and harrowing challenges to access even basic needs like medication or groceries.
On March 29, the Government of Canada announced a grant of $9 million under their New Horizons for Seniors Program to be distributed through the United Way Centraide Canada network to senior-serving community agencies across the country.
We worked with Employment and Social Development Canada, to develop a population distribution model and rapidly disbursed these funds to 77 United Way and Centraide members across the country, enabling them to meet some of the critical local community needs that emerged amongst vulnerable seniors during the early stages of the pandemic.
About the Emergency Community Support Fund
Through the portion of the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) administered by United Way Centraide Canada, communities responding to COVID-19 received an injection of more than $136M. United Way Centraide Canada, along with Community Foundations of Canada and The Canadian Red Cross, were three intermediary organizations chosen to administer the ECSF, a $350M investment announced by the Government of Canada on April 21, 2020.
Grants through the program were made to community service organizations through an open application process that was administered by our national network of participating local United Way and Centraide members, reaching more than 5,000 communities from coast to coast to coast.
In terms of impact, the United Way Centraide portion of ECSF has provided financial resources to 5,260 programs to help meet the immediate and pressing needs of vulnerable people. Of those programs funded, 2,674 (51%) are brand new community partners from outside of the UWC network of community service agencies. The average grant amount was $25,963.
In October of 2020, 211 service capacity was increased and expanded to serve all of Canada, thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund for COVID-19 relief.
Bringing 211 to every Canadian with access to a telephone is a significant achievement for social infrastructure in Canada. To build this nationwide support for everyone who calls this country home, United Way Centraide Canada and it’s 211 service partners worked together with all telecommunications providers in the expansion regions of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and all three Northern territories to enable 211 dialing. The result of those negotiations, and the support of telecommunications providers nationwide is that everyone living in Canada can now access the free, confidential, 211 information and referral service to find help for all of life’s challenges. Additional funds were also provided to help active 211 service providers handle the 30% surge in call volumes during the pandemic.
Across Canada, 211 is now offered by phone, chat, website, and text. In all cases, 211 call specialists help people navigate a complex network of government and community programs and services quickly, easily, confidentially, free of charge.
About Local Love in a Global Crisis
United Way Centraide Canada launched Local Love in a Global Crisis in partnership with local United Ways and Centraides to provide emergency support to our most vulnerable people in response to the pandemic. Through the incredible generosity of individuals, corporate donors and workplace campaigns, Local Love in a Global Crisis raised more than $25,000,000 in local community relief funding nationwide. These funds were deployed in communities across the country to support basic needs, provide help for seniors, enable mental health supports and invest in community service agency capacity.