When Nova Scotia went into lockdown in March 2020, the staff and board at the Halifax Dartmouth branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) were worried. Like many non-profits they didn’t have a cushion of funding to meet new needs that were quickly emerging. Thankfully, that initial fear was short lived. Two weeks later, CMHA received its first grant from United Way’s Atlantic Compassion Fund.
“I don’t know what we would have done without those grants from United Way,” says Marg Murray, one of two co-managers at the branch.
It would have meant totally different outcomes for the people we serve. It made us feel less hopeless.
Before COVID-19 arrived in Halifax, many of the people who accessed CMHA programs were living with mental illness and were experiencing social isolation, marginalization or living in insecure housing. “People were living with few resources, but many of them had a network to help alleviate some of that stress,” Marg recalls. Program participants would visit CMHA and go on outings, access free wifi or go to the library. Without access to that network during lockdown, people became further isolated with even fewer resources.
CMHA used their first grants to safely deliver groceries and activity packs to their program participants. “For people living alone, it was especially difficult,” Marg explains. “With these grants, we were able to do more social outreach to help people.”
Bridging the digital divide
As the pandemic wore on, bridging the digital divide became an area of focus for CMHA. Marg remembers hearing how excluded people felt when everything from socializing to public health information shifted almost exclusively online.
“It was demoralizing. People said without the internet, they didn’t even feel like a real person. It exacerbated issues we were already dealing with.”
Atlantic Compassion Fund grants helped CMHA connect people so they could access programming, online appointments and more. And when restrictions allowed them to open up in person – on three separate occasions – United Way provided funding to help them reopen too. “There was a whole community of caring there, who recognized that people were already going through enough.”
Donors step up
Funding for the Atlantic Compassion Fund and United Way Halifax’s COVID-19 response came from various sources, including individuals, corporate donors and government. The beauty of the fund though, was in the creative responses that not only raised $10 million in funding across Atlantic Canada but also brought people together in new ways.
The Halifax Wanderers came up with a unique campaign that would help keep their dedicated fan base safe while supporting community needs during COVID-19.“We had worked with United Way before, and when we heard about the Atlantic Compassion Fund, it was just a really great fit,” says David Finlayson, director of business development for the Wanderers.
The organization created Wanderers branded non-medical face masks, with proceeds from the sales going to the Atlantic Compassion Fund. They arrived just as the provincial government mandated mask-wearing in public places to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To promote the initiative, the Wanderers created a video of Hali-famous people wearing the masks and asking folks to “Be A Hero.” Fans responded immediately. “We created the video, but the fans generated the sales,” says David. “They pushed it out to friends and colleagues. We shipped masks across North America, and you’ll still see people wearing them out and about and to games.” The Wanderers corporate partners got on board too, with their own promotions to help drive sales.
Several of our corporate supporters were already involved with United Way, and our fans are very community minded. It was exciting to see everyone dedicated to the same cause.
David recalls how they really wanted to pool their contribution with others to create a much larger impact. “United Way really brings their partners to the Wanderers, both in the organizations they support and their own corporate partners. We knew we were part of something bigger.”
As more people get vaccinated and things open again, the Wanderers are already planning other ways to continue to give back to community. “We’re looking forward to partnering with United Way and its funded partners again in the future.”
Facts & Stats
received by United Way Halifax
local charities supported
funding applications reviewed
The impact of our Neighbourhood Kitchen Fund is underway, and will continue for years to come.
A creative fundraising initiative helped bridge the digital divide for people in HRM during the pandemic.
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