It was a common refrain in the early days of the pandemic: “We’re all in this together.” But we soon realized the pandemic would strain the social fabric of our communities along fault lines that have been unresolved for generations.
COVID-19 did not create inequities, but it has exacerbated the chronic challenges people were already facing, like poverty, social isolation, and mental health. The pandemic has also forced us to appreciate more profoundly than ever before how inequities have led to the greatest harm for our society. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities, women, low-wage workers, people with disabilities, seniors, and others.
United Way East Ontario’s response to the pandemic started even before the first case of COVID-19 was declared in our region. But we didn’t immediately grasp how significant our role would need to be for what would become the greatest crisis in our lifetime.
Now, more than a year into the pandemic, we are embedded in and leading a community-wide response alongside hundreds of other organizations from different sectors, all with commitment and common purpose.
This is the work United Way East Ontario is meant to do.
COVID-19 has underscored for United Way that philanthropy and the work of the charitable sector on our own is insufficient to achieve the social justice goals to which we aspire. And that’s not just because charities are suffering from the financial fallout of the pandemic—in fact, as you’ll see in this report, our United Way has seen incredible generosity over the past year that fuels our ability to be nimble and solutions-focused for our communities.
The pandemic urgently provoked collaboration and innovation to support the most vulnerable people in our communities through times of crisis. We will now seize the moment to align philanthropy with progressive public policy, enlightened corporate priorities, and the contribution of informed partners and stakeholders to truly address the systemic inequities that brought us to where we are today.
Our 2020-21: A Year in Review annual report is a look back on a year unlike any other: a year that compelled us to step up and ensure stability for our partner agencies; a year where we lived into our goal of being an impact-first United Way; a year that required our focus on equity and justice to address the root causes of the pandemic’s disproportionate effects. But as we look back together, I also found it important to reflect on how this past year will shape what lies ahead.
We and countless other non-profits had to reimagine how we work in the face of COVID-19, in ways that were long overdue. In many cases, we have improved service delivery, reached new people in need, and reduced redundancies. I commend our staff, volunteers and partners for their bold approach that has spawned critical community initiatives to support those most in need.
United Way must continue delivering the critical services people need, and we must take the lessons of the pandemic with us to build a more equitable future.
In the thick of widespread job losses, working from home while juggling virtual learning and caregiving, loss of loved ones, and countless other challenges of the past year, we asked our communities to support United Way’s work. Inviting people to partner with us when so many had lost so much, amidst incredible uncertainty, was no easy feat. But the response was humbling.
Today, I am grateful that thousands of people, in organizations, businesses, frontline agencies, government bodies, and more, believe in the power of United Way to solve the most pressing local issues. It will take courage, commitment, and innovation to continue tackling systemic challenges beyond the pandemic, but we are in good company.
Thank you for being an integral part of this past year with us. I invite you to stick by our side as we forge ahead into yet another year of uncertainty.
President and CEO,
United Way East Ontario