Close this search box.

Facing Forward: Protecting our communities

As our communities continue to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, it is vital that everyone is equipped to protect themselves and those around them from the spread of the virus 

Last spring, guidance from public health authorities recommended people wear face coverings when in a community setting. Around this time, Ottawa Public Health approached United Way East Ontario to help get masks into the hands of those who needed them most.  

We knew many people in our communities would not have the means to purchase masks for themselves or their loved ones. Those who face homelessness weren’t able to clean or store them safely, meaning they would require disposable masks. For others, especially isolated seniors, buying online wasn’t possible.  

So, as part of United Way’s Local Love in a Global Crisis COVID-19 response, we launched Facing Forward in June 2020: a short-term social enterprise that would ensure our communities’ most vulnerable people could have access to face masks.   

Bridging the gap

We continue to see how the pandemic magnifies existing inequities in our society. Not only have marginalized communities been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19they have also experienced added barriers to protecting themselves. 

Facing Forward provided workplaces, families, and other groups with a way to purchase cloth masks for themselves, while providing masks to vulnerable people in our communities. Every purchase has an economic, environmental and social impact, whether intended or not. This initiative presented an opportunity to buy an essential product that also had a positive social impact in our communities. 

With the help of our passionate community members and partners, people participated in Facing Forward in three impactful ways:

✓ By buying our cloth masks online, at Circle K and Mac’s locations, or OC Transpo stations (with proceeds supporting those in need) 

✓ Making masks

✓ Donating funds or other personal protective equipment in-kind 

Strength in numbers 

United Way staff and OPH volunteer selling Facing Forward masks at OC Transpo Stations

Since the pandemic entered our region in March 2020, we have been committed to collaborating to better reach people in need. 

We worked with our partners at 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 they went to the people who needed them most. This included organizations like the Ottawa Food Bank, the Ottawa Coalition of Community HousesCommunity Health and Resource Centres and more. 

Outside of Ottawa, we worked with 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 had access to masks and PPE across our region. 

Thanks to donations from individuals and partners, as well as the 53,650 Facing Forward cloth masks purchased, we were able to get more than 535,000 masks into the hands of people in need across East Ontario. 

For you, for all

During this time, the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses identified a pressing need for masks in children’s sizes. Through our partnership with the Human Needs Task Force—which tracked the needs expressed by agencies and individuals across our region—we provided 1,000 children with appropriately-sized masks through Community Houses. 

“There’s an opportunity as we move from crisis response into recovery to think about how we can reframe, and re-engineer our communities and indeed serve those vulnerable populations.”

Partners in change

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

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

The City of Ottawa and the Ottawa Police Service are two key partners who equipped their workforce with Facing Forward masks. As City employees return to work in shared spaces, they’ll be greeted with reusable masks that make a difference. 

Our resilience during times of crisis, comes from our sense of community. As we look at the pandemic and beyond, we are reminded that when we are united, we can continue to keep our vibrant communities safe and healthy.  

See the full impact of our COVID-19 response:



Similar Stories

Kelly McGahey, Director for the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), unpacks research we completed to better understand employment barriers for people with disabilities. Learn more about the key findings and how they can be used toward an equitable economic recovery.

Sign up for
our newsletter

Get stories of local love straight to your inbox! Stay up to date with United Way’s impact and latest news by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.