Launched on March 17, 2020, the Atlantic Compassion Fund was the first COVID relief fund in Canada.
When COVID-19 restrictions started quickly setting in among the Atlantic provinces, there was considerable anxiety. After all, this new virus was moving quickly and United Ways across the region knew that people living in poverty would be extra vulnerable.
Thankfully, local businessman Tom Rose stepped up to make a $100,000 donation to a new Atlantic-wide fund that would help offset the impacts of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable residents. We teamed up with the 10 other United Ways across Atlantic Canada, and launched the Atlantic Compassion Fund as quickly as we could.
The team at United Way Halifax managed the fund on the region’s behalf.
With dollars coming in quickly from other generous donors, our Community Impact Team went right to work to ensure funding impacted those most vulnerable. Staff member Karen Gilmore recalls those first moments when she and her colleagues learned about the fund. “I remember saying, thank goodness we can do something,” says Karen. She acknowledges the challenges faced by those living in poverty only increased.
“When everything shut down, the needs didn’t go away. The needs were amplified.”
That became evident as the first applications came through online. The Community Impact Team jumped into action immediately, pivoting from their regular duties to read applications, follow up with applicants, develop recommendations, and draft contracts.
“We did in two or three weeks what would normally take a few months, and we still had to be extremely intentional and thorough,” says Karen. “Literally everyone in the organization stepped up to help.”
Agencies were remarkably creative and adaptive.
Front-line agencies were facing similar challenges. Forced to close their doors, they dropped their normal day-to-day activities in favour of outreach. The care and compassion front-line workers showed to the community was nothing short of heroic.
Many risked their own personal safety to take care of their participants, delivering meals and hygiene items, spending extra time cleaning shared shelter spaces and even administering COVID-19 tests. Others spent time connecting virtually to continue supporting the community.
While COVID-19 put a spotlight on the vulnerabilities people living in poverty were experiencing, it also gave United Ways the opportunity to do what they do best.
We have a deep understanding of community issues, and the relationships needed to address them in the community. We used the opportunity to consider both old and new organizations to work with. And we were able to work together on shared issues that will have an impact long after the pandemic is over.
One example is Ulnooweg, a program that will create an Indigenous-led, permanent greenhouse, garden and food depot program to address food security and create job opportunities on 7 of the 32 Indigenous reserves in Atlantic Canada. Indigenous people were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, but Ulnooweg will be a sustainable solution that fits their specific needs and cultural identity.
Karen says the team never strayed from our values and mission, and remained focused on making sure the funds reached those most marginalized by poverty and COVID-19. And just because the first wave of COVID-19 is behind us, doesn’t mean the work is done.
“There’s still so much that can be done. We were there for the community before the pandemic, and we’ll still be here after, as long as they need us.”
Facts & Stats
agencies in HRM received funding
people benefitted from ACF funding
kilos of food were distributed
participated in virtual programming
HRM neighbourhoods were supported
hours were added to agency staff roles
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