United Ways Rise to the Challenge of the Pandemic
Assistance across the country, and at home, has increased exponentially since 2019
NORTHAMPTON—United Ways work year-round to help people who are vulnerable, and in the past year, meeting increased needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made agencies across the world far busier and even more relevant.
United Way of Hampshire County regularly reports to United Way Worldwide, including its own efforts related to COVID. In meeting the needs of an additional, estimated 5,000 people in Hampshire County in the past year, the agency expanded its summer diaper drive into a year-long effort, rallied 300 volunteers for COVID-related tasks, and fielded 380 percent more calls for help via the 2-1-1 emergency line.
“United Way has always fought for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community,” said John Bidwell, executive director of the Hampshire County agency. “In particular, that means we focus on the thorniest issues related to poverty and near poverty. Too many of our neighbors have to decide between diapers and food, or medicine or gas for our car. Things that most of us don’t think twice about. As the pandemic continues, so does our critical work helping the most vulnerable in these tough times.”
Bidwell said increased support for the agency would allow it to continue to provide a higher level of help. To make a donation, visit https://www.uwhampshire.org/give.
In the region
In a more typical year, United Way of Hampshire County provides support that touches roughly 20,000 lives. With the financial devastation wrought by COVID, the agency has reached an estimated 5,000 additional people, greatly ramping up the assistance it provides. It has:
- Responded to 4,930 calls for help to the 2-1-1 emergency line over the past year, up from 1,297 in 2019, with top needs reported as rent assistance and childcare.
- Expanded the summer diaper drive into a year-long effort, increasing diaper donations by 250 percent and offering busy partner agencies relief in knowing they can relax their own diaper-gathering.
- Rallied roughly 300 volunteers for COVID-specific efforts, including preparing and running shelters, delivering food, and making hats and masks.
- Collected and dispersed a high volume of donated items for the homeless, including tents, jackets, hats, gloves, food, chairs, water bottles, hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, and masks.
- Provided logistical and strategic support, such as in opening shelters in Amherst and Northampton as well as supporting a recovery center in Ware.
Each year, United Way of Hampshire County provides funding in three-year grant commitments to its partner agencies with direction that the funds must be spent in one of three specific categories: Children, Youth, and Families; Economic Security; and Health and Safety.
“We continue providing support to 35 programs across Hampshire County,” Bidwell said, adding, “This year, we have unrestricted funding, allowing the partners to use the funds in the ways they need during COVID. This flexibility has been critical for them in responding to increased needs.”
Supporting justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion
The COVID-19 crisis has corresponded with a rising awareness of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion—referred to as (JEDI) issues. As a result, United Way of Hampshire County created a standing JEDI committee, was involved with the crafting of several racial solidarity statements for nonprofits and has helped underwrite JEDI trainings for nonprofits through the Council of Service Agencies (COSA) and Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce.
Assists across the globe
United Way Worldwide has also seen exponential demand for help. “United Way is the largest nonprofit in the world, and the scope of what the organization has been able to do has been huge,” Bidwell said. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit one year ago, United Way has been working overtime to help communities respond, recover, reimagine, and rebuild.”
The United Way network has raised and distributed more than $1 billion and helped more than 27 million people cope with the impact on their lives and livelihoods.
“The human response has been heartening,” Bidwell said. “The COVID-crisis helps us remember that we are all part of a larger community.”
One supporter of United Way Worldwide’s efforts is Amanda Gorman, America’s youth poet laureate who captivated many in the recent Superbowl and during President Biden’s inauguration. Gorman wrote a poem for United Way last year, titled “Live United,” to motivate people during dark times.
Said Bidwell, “Her words elevate the importance of taking care of each other. She captures the promise, possibility, and potential of galvanizing the caring power of communities. Amanda’s clarion call ‘to be hope-sighted’ is uplifting.”