United Way wants emer­gency do­na­tions

Or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing with agen­cies to meet most press­ing de­mands

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - GORD HOWARD

United Way Ni­a­gara has cre­ated an emer­gency fund to help com­mu­nity agen­cies over­whelmed by the coro­n­avirus out­break.

“We’ve emailed them and told them, tell us what you need right now,” said ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Frances Hall­worth. “As they need those things, we will be send­ing the money out.

“We can get money out very quickly to our or­ga­ni­za­tions, they won’t have to wait.”

Do­na­tions can be made on­line at Unit­edWayNi­a­gara.org. Un­der “ad­di­tional gift in­for­ma­tion,” click on Emer­gency Re­sponse Fund.

Do­na­tions can also be made on the phone by call­ing 905688-5050. Al­though all United Way Ni­a­gara of­fices are closed and em­ploy­ees are work­ing off­site, calls are be­ing an­swered re­motely.

Across the re­gion, the United Way funds 111 pro­grams through 54 part­ner agen­cies, reach­ing nearly 120,000 peo­ple.

“We have been in con­tact with all of our agen­cies,” Hall­worth said.

“Some of them are on the front lines and are over­whelmed, and oth­ers have had to cease ser­vice be­cause of what they do.”

Many of those groups work with small staffs and rely heav­ily on vol­un­teers and are also scram­bling to keep pace with the changes brought on by the out­break.

For some agen­cies, the United Way pro­vides fund­ing for more than one pro­gram. Hall­worth said her staff are work­ing with ones that want to shift money to­ward more press­ing needs — pos­si­bly emer­gency shel­ter or food bank ser­vices, or ones that visit se­niors in their homes — and away from less-ur­gent ones.

“Com­mu­ni­cate with us and we will get back to you very quickly, and you can move those funds to more es­sen­tial ser­vices,” she said.

“In fair­ness to all our agen­cies that are still work­ing, this is an evolv­ing plan for them. No one could ever have pre­pared for what is hap­pen­ing.

“Things are evolv­ing by the hour.”

The United Way hasn’t set a goal for the emer­gency fund — “as much as possible, so we can meet the needs of the or­ga­ni­za­tions as they come to us.”

She noted steps dif­fer­ent lev­els of govern­ment have taken, such as ex­tend­ing tax dead­lines and loos­en­ing re­stric­tions on qual­i­fy­ing for em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. But some of the peo­ple who will most need that help, such as tourism work­ers or oth­ers in the ser­vice in­dus­try, might al­ready be hurt­ing as busi­nesses re­duce em­ploy­ees’ hours or lay off staff.

“While some very good things are hap­pen­ing … those funds are not go­ing to reach peo­ple quickly. I be­lieve the es­ti­mate right now is three weeks,” Hall­worth said.

“There are many peo­ple who are liv­ing be­low the poverty line who were not able to stock up on food, as they didn’t have the re­sources to do it. And now their pay­cheque has stopped.”

Hall­worth said the United Way started pre­par­ing about a month ago for the ef­fects of a COVID-19 out­break by en­sur­ing staff had the ca­pa­bil­ity to work from home.

Around the same time, she said, they be­gan hear­ing in­for­mally from lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions that were also wor­ried.

Not ev­ery­one took it se­ri­ously at the start, “but I find that flipped very quickly. We were tak­ing it in­cred­i­bly se­ri­ous.”

She said it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple know ev­ery dol­lar do­nated to the emer­gency fund will stay in Ni­a­gara to pro­vide lo­cal ser­vices.

“It’s very over­whelm­ing for ev­ery in­di­vid­ual in our com­mu­nity, but I have to say we are in­cred­i­bly lucky to live where we do,” Hall­worth said.

“We are a strong com­mu­nity and we do come to­gether … in a strong way to help those who are strug­gling.”

DE­NIS CAHILL

United Way Ni­a­gara ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Frances Hall­worth hopes a new emer­gency fund can help deal with the vi­ral out­break.

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