United Way wants emergency donations
Organization working with agencies to meet most pressing demands
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.”
United Way Niagara executive director Frances Hallworth hopes a new emergency fund can help deal with the viral outbreak.