Coming together to fight COVID-19

United Way’s Atlantic Compassion Fund is helping community leaders mount a regional response to the COVID-19 crisis

When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping Atlantic Canada in early 2020, it quickly became obvious that the crisis was about more than just the virus itself. As usual, it was the most vulnerable people who were hit hardest.

For people experiencing homelessness, appeals to “stay the blazes home” were impossible to obey. And physical distancing in crowded shelters was next to impossible.

Women grappling with domestic violence were confined in abusive environments 24 hours a day.

People dealing with food insecurity, mental illness, or any number of other difficulties, were plunged into crisis. The sudden disruption in social services led to the loss of contact with trusted supports.

United by compassion

Few things bring a community together like a crisis. At United Way Halifax — forged in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion — we know that better than anyone. That’s why in March, we helped launch the Atlantic Compassion Fund. We partnered with 10 other United Ways across Atlantic Canada. Business leaders, government agencies, and ordinary citizens made the fund possible.

“Like so many others, my mind and heart have been racing, thinking about what I can do to help,” said Tom Rose, president of Atlantic Business Interiors. In response, he helped launch the fund with a pledge to match the first $100,000 in contributions. He also provided $100,000 worth of office furniture to help not-for-profit and community groups that needed to pivot quickly to remote-work setups.

The gifts kept coming

Soon after the fund launched, Atlantic Lottery Corporation donated $50,000. Then Nova Scotia Power and its parent company, Emera Inc., gave $500,000 to the fund. And Medavie, not-for-profit health-solutions provider, provided $750,000. Other donors came up with product tie-ins to raise money. For example, the Halifax Wanderers have begun producing branded masks, with profits going to the fund. And Alexander Keith’s Brewery provided $20,000 through the sales of a special sampler pack. In April, the province of Nova Scotia contributed $1 million to the fund — a tremendous vote of confidence in its effectiveness and importance. In total, we’ve raised over $10.2 million in COVID-19 relief funding. As a result, more than 300 community organizations throughout Atlantic Canada are receiving support.

Some examples of how funds were used include:

  • Providing access to food, medicine, transportation, and mental health support
  • Outreach to seniors and vulnerable people for grocery and supply deliveries, safety check-ins
  • Phone and online outreach to replace traditional drop-in centre programming
  • Paying for deep cleaning of community facilities and shelters
  • Providing discretionary funds to service providers to better help the underemployed or displaced

“Many people in our community are in crisis right now,” says Sara Napier, President and CEO of United Way Halifax. “Things like a lack of access to food, medicine and transportation, the closure of public spaces, lost wages, and inability to connect with family, friends or care providers can take already challenging circumstances to unmanageable extremes. Now, we need to pull together to support those who need it most.”

Throughout 2020, the fund will evolve to meet the new needs that emerge as the response to the pandemic changes. We expect the needs will continue to grow. As the first wave of the pandemic ends, the fund may support programming and initiatives to help get social-service providers, and the people they help, back on their feet and make up for lost time.