The United Way is witnessing the devastating effects of the pandemic pushing more people to the breaking point at a time, when our community’s ability to answer the call is in jeopardy.
Frances Hallworth, executive director of the United Way, says the gap between those who live in need every day and those who do not has always existed. “Times of crisis only deepen that divide, preying on the vulnerable and marginalized and forcing them ever closer to the brink.”
Now, as a community, Hallworth says, we are staring down harsh new realities. “COVID-19 has upended the lives of many who are now accessing supports for the very first time, joining the ranks of the more than 120,000 people who already rely on the over 150 local United Way funded programs.”
• Local 2-1-1 data shows a doubling of calls since the pandemic from people looking for help accessing food, shelter or mental health programs.
• Victim Services has also seen twice the calls in response to intimate partner violence.
• Opioid overdoses have increased. Approximately 11 people in Niagara die every month from overdose.
People in Niagara are struggling.
“Front-line agencies we count on to protect people from the ravages of poverty and homelessness, mental illness, addiction, isolation, abuse and violence are now in danger themselves. It’s estimated that 20 per cent of charities in Canada are going to close their doors by the end of 2020,” says Hallworth.
“At this very moment, crucial local agencies are cutting programs, and contemplating whether they can stay afloat. Their reserves are spent and the donations they rely on have plummeted, all while service demand is skyrocketing.”
If front-line services disappear, she says, “our family, friends and neighbours have no safety net beneath them. Not only does that spell catastrophe today, the devastating community loss will be felt for decades.
“We must take drastic action – now.”
COVID-19 has pressed many of us to take stock of our priorities and our blessings, says Hallworth. “While the lucky among us have been able to work, many have lost their jobs. While we have been able to pay mortgages or rent, many fear losing their homes or may have already. As some of us are able to cope with the stress and uncertainty of this time, many are facing a battle with their addictions or feeling their mental health decline.”
Often when individuals or families seek help from one agency, they need supports elsewhere, relying on an interconnected network of social and health organizations that is now in need of a lifeline.
What can you do?
• You can sign up for your workplace’s campaign and make paycheque contributions. Or you can gather as a workplace and launch a giving campaign.
• As an individual or family, you can redirect some income that would have once gone to travel, eating out or entertainment to a monthly gift to the United Way.
• Each and every one of you reading this can change lives, no matter how much you are able to donate. Literally every dollar counts.
• Give from a position of gratitude and rest assured that investing in United Way maximizes the impact of every dollar and protects the entire social safety net.
United Way Niagara is the backbone of that network, working on the ground with front-line agencies to build capacity, amplify impact, and solidify collective action. “Next to government, we are the largest investor in the safety net in the country,” says Hallworth.
“Because we invest only in high-impact programs, and where the need is the greatest, we know that the agencies we support are the ones best equipped to guide our community forward out of this crisis, helping individuals at all stages of life – infants to seniors and everyone in between.”
United Way Niagara needs help today like never before, she says.
“We are being tested, but like generations before us, we must rise to the challenge. We can only do that by pulling together to ensure that as we recover, no one is left behind.”