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COVID-19 supports for racialized and Indigenous communities, children & youth, people living in poverty and more


This past week, United Way East Ontario provided support to an additional 73 frontline programs and initiatives across East Ontario to help vulnerable populations through the challenges of COVID-19. This is the second round of critical investments made in collaboration with the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.

The programs include things like supporting their children with online learning, accessing healthy food, helping newcomers understand and navigate unfamiliar systems, and much more.

With this in mind, United Way is supporting racialized and Indigenous communities, children and youth, people living in poverty, people with mental health challenges, seniors, LGBTQ+ communities, newcomers and refugees, people experiencing homelessness and many others in need with increased support to weather the challenges of COVID-19.

Reaching people who are more at risk—and understanding why 

According to 2016 census data, only 26 per cent of Ottawa’s population identifies as a visible minority, and 23 per cent were born outside of Canada—demonstrating that COVID-19 is hitting these communities harder. 

Suzanne Obiorah, Director of Primary Health Care and Regional Programs at Somerset West Community Health Centre, notes that, it’s important to add context when presenting public health data: “We need to ask why socially-disadvantaged communities experience illness, disease and poor health outcomes at higher rates.”

“Institutional oppression, systemic racism and chronic exposure to discrimination are often the root causes of this disproportionate impact. We are seeing this play out with racialized communities in particular experiencing the effects of COVID-19 more severely. Too often, racialized communities experience barriers to accessing health services that understand their unique cultural needs. Support from United Way and the Government of Canada enables us to deliver culturally-appropriate crisis and mental health services to people most in need.”

“Receiving services and programs designed for my community makes me feel included, and that creates a sense of safety.”

By partnering with United Way, the Somerset West Community Health Centre and dozens of other local frontline agencies are able to help disadvantaged communities address various challenges associated with COVID-19.

“I only wish I had someone who has been through what I've been through back when I first moved to Canada. I struggled. Now, being able to call this support line and speak with someone who has been in my place gives me hope that it shall be ok.”

This is only one of the 73 programs across East Ontario that will provide basic needs like food and personal protective equipment; culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health, crisis and social supports; engagement and education programs for children and their parents; communications and settlement support for newcomers and refugees; improved access to digital tools for low-income people and isolated seniors, and much more.

“We admire the resilience, strength and hard work of members in our community,” says Suzanne. “COVID-19 has placed many people in tough and challenging situations as they face worries about job loss, income, housing, or food. We feel privileged to walk alongside our community members, and provide them with the support they need to weather the social and physical effects of the pandemic.”

Collaboration at a local level

The strategy to provide this latest round of support was a direct result of input from the more than 70 partners that participate in the United Way-led COVID-19 Community Response Table. It also represents input from local volunteers in Ottawa, Prescott-Russell, Lanark County and Renfrew County who have experience with the social challenges associated with COVID-19. 

As is our promise 365 days a year, in times of crisis, United Way identifies the areas of greatest need—demonstrated by research, real-time data and stories of lived experience—and invests to make the greatest impact for vulnerable people in our communities.

This week’s investment of $2.96 million is made possible by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, and adds to the $1.76 million United Way East Ontario already invested from this fund in late June. 

To date, United Way has supported more than 130 local initiatives since the start of the pandemic – programs that help isolated seniors, improve access to basic needs, build capacity for community services, strengthen mental health support, and empower volunteers.

“We will continue to work hard with our communities to be innovative and creative in addressing the challenges we continue to face as a result of COVID-19,” says Michael Allen, President and CEO of United Way East Ontario. “Our work at the Community Response Table has helped us learn how the pandemic is affecting the most vulnerable people in our communities. By pinpointing areas that demand our attention, we can invest in programs, forge partnerships, and recommend policy changes to guarantee a stronger future for everyone.”

In early March, in partnership with Ottawa Public Health, regional public health authorities and dozens of organizations across the community sector, United Way launched an initiative to help support the most vulnerable in response to COVID-19’s effects on our region. This collaboration has enabled local problem solving, prioritization of needs, and collaboration. To learn more about United Way’s work, or if you require community service assistance, please visit

About the Emergency Community Support Fund:

The Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) provides financial support to charities and other qualified donees adapting their frontline services to support vulnerable Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ECSF was announced by the Government of Canada and is administered in collaboration with United Way Centraide Canada, Community Foundations of Canada and the Canadian Red Cross.




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