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Facing Forward: Masks that benefit our communities


Getting masks in the hands of people who need them

As our community continues to grapple with COVID-19, it is so important that everyone is equipped to protect themselves and those around them. 

United Way’s Facing Forward helps make this easier. The initiative, born from an ask from our partners at Ottawa Public Health, ensures that our communities’ most vulnerable people have access to face masks—protection that they otherwise may not be able to get for themselves or their families.

Many do not have the means to purchase masks for themselves or their families. Those who face homelessness can’t always clean or store them safely, meaning they would need disposable masks. For some, especially isolated seniors, buying online isn’t possible. The options and requirements can feel overwhelming—most don’t even know where to start.

Thanks to Facing Forward, donations from individuals and partners like Conquer COVID-19, as well as bulk purchases made by organizations like the City of Ottawa, so far we’ve been able to get more than 270,000 masks in the hands of people in need across East Ontario.

How it works

The community has been participating in Facing Forward in many ways: buying our cloth masks (proceeds go to help those in need), making masks, and of course donating funds or other personal protective equipment to support the initiativeand our communities. 

At United Way East Ontario, we then work with our partners at the Ottawa Public Health and the City of Ottawa’s Human Needs Task Force to distribute masks with the help of our frontline agency partners to ensure masks go to the people who need them most. This includes organizations like the Ottawa Food Bank, the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses, Community Health and Resource Centres and more. 

Outside of the City of Ottawa, we’re working with partners like the Eastern Ontario Health Unit in Prescott-Russell, the Renfrew County District Health Unit and The Table Community Food Centre in Perth to make sure people in need have access to personal protective equipment across our region.

Making a measurable impact

Most recently, Ottawa’s Community Houses identified a pressing need for masks in children’s sizes. Through our partnership with the Human Needs Task Force—which has been tracking the need expressed by agencies and individuals across our region—we provided 1,000 children across Ottawa’s Community Houses with masks that are sized for them. 

Other vulnerable groups like seniors are also being equipped with reusable cloth masks so they can stay safe while maintaining their independence.

A mask that makes a difference

We are so grateful to the organizations, employers and other groups who have equipped staff, friends and family with Facing Forward masks. 

During this time, we all need masks, but you chose to make a purchase that also has a positive social impact. Thank you.

The City of Ottawa is one example of many of our partners who equiped staff with Facing Forward masks. As City employees return to work in shared spaces, they’ll be greeted with reusable masks that have an impact far beyond their own social bubbles.

Making purchases that benefit your community

Every purchase we make has an economic, environmental and social impact, whether intended or not. So, how can communities support vulnerable populations and promote economic recovery at the same time? We believe the answer lies in supporting social enterprises and social procurement.

“The COVID-19 crisis has and will continue to have significant impacts on our community—not only presently but as we move into the future. There’s an opportunity as we move from the crisis response into recovery to think about how we can reframe and re-engineer our communities to serve those vulnerable populations.”

United Way East Ontario is, and has always been, a proud champion and an advocate for social procurement and social enterprise. While this is the first time we’ve been on the ‘front-line’ of providing resources like masks for the benefit of the communities we serve, we’re encouraged by the support and enthusiasm of our partners and donors who have shown their support. 

Our hope is that we can continue this momentum as our communities continue to confront barriers to face masks, but also that when we see an end to this pandemic, that we can transition this way of thinking to continue supporting the most vulnerable in unique, sustainable ways.




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