Bringing Hope to Underserved Communities in Ghana | Learning and Playing: Free Day Camp Keeps Essential Workers’ Kids Safe
As Calls to 211 in Maryland Increase, United Way Provides Answers | Keeping Kids Engaged in Colombia | Lending a Helping Hand
Finding a Safe Place to Stay | Keeping Foodbanks Stocked | Helping the Elderly
Going Above and Beyond | Protecting Those on the Front Lines | Community Member Standout
The COVID-19 outbreak in Ghana has put a spotlight on economic inequalities and a fragile social safety net that leaves underserved communities to bear the economic brunt of the crisis. While the virus infects people from all walks of life, low-income families will be most affected due to lack of access to basic needs.
Hajia Memuna is a 60-year-old widow living in Mamobi, an underserved community in the capital of Ghana. Growing up, Hajia was full of life and envisioned herself as a successful businesswoman, earning enough to support her family and the vulnerable children in her community. But when her husband passed away, Hajia had to engage in low-paying, menial work to provide for her children and grandchildren. And now, she cannot work at all because of COVID-related restrictions.
By launching a coordinating response effort with Muslim Family Counselling Services, Mother of All Nations Foundation and Achievers Ghana, United Way Ghana is helping vulnerable families like Hijia’s by providing essential food and sanitary items.
With a core focus on quality education for all, United Way Ghana is also working to keep young learners reading by incorporating components of their literacy program into their COVID-19 response. By providing educational resources for families with young children, United Way Ghana is aiming to keep kids engaged to smooth the transition back to the classroom once school resumes.
“I am grateful to United Way Ghana for this intervention,” said Hajia. “With the items and education I have received, I am confident that my family and I will survive through this pandemic.”
While essential workers shoulder the brunt of the public health crisis to keep critical services running, many are also faced with leaving their children home alone. When schools in Abilene, TX closed in mid-March, United Way of Abilene started working with their partners in schools, after-school programs, and more to make sure all children had a safe place to go. And not just any place, but one with play and enrichment activities, educational activities and help with assignments from teacher volunteers, and a free breakfast and lunch to replace the meals they’d normally get at school.
The result: Abilene United Day Camp, which is open 13 hours a day to accommodate varying schedules. Some 300 children across two sites are spending their days there while their parents are working at hospitals, grocery stores, and other essential operations. Camps follow all health and safety guidelines, from temperature checks by nurses before entry, to keeping the children with a small consistent group of their peers and rigorously disinfecting common areas like the playground between groups to keep kids and the adults who care for them, safe.
This is a community-wide effort. Meals come from the school district, and United Way of Abilene’s corporate partners have stepped up with lunch donations for camp staff. Local nonprofits help out with timely activities like mask-making, and other activities that are just for fun.
The camp is just one of the ways United Way of Abilene is helping the community come together to help each other, while socially distanced. Working with other disaster-response agencies, they created the community-wide, volunteer-powered Home Safe program. Home Safe connects every single household in the community with a person in the same neighborhood to turn to for help. The helpers are backed up with a wealth of local services and assistance programs to ensure neighbors get the help they need. Said United Way Abilene CEO, Cathy Ashby, “the Home and Safe program would have been a wonderful tool to assist our community during [the May 2019 tornados] if it had been in place in 2019. It is ready now and hopefully will be able to provide assistance to our medically fragile and seniors who should shelter in place as much as possible.”
Phones are ringing non-stop at 211 centers across the country, with calls up 200-400% from late February, In Maryland, callers are seeking places to obtain COVID-19 tests, find food, get help paying their bills, or to receive emotional support during this time of fear and uncertainty.
Franklyn Baker, president of the United Way of Central Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun that 211 call specialists are answering health care questions—including those about coronavirus—and directing people to “grab and go” sites where they can pick up meals. “This is so unprecedented,” Baker told the Sun. “When they are seeking answers, we point them in the right direction while being as efficient and as compassionate as we can.”
With calls coming in at four times the normal volume, United Way of Central Maryland is turning to volunteers to help field the thousands of daily calls. Volunteers answered in droves, turning up to (safely!) pick up equipment and get started.
211 Helpline staff have helped countless Maryland residents, like Isabella and Frank.
Isabella has three children and is blind. She voice-dialed 211, seeking food for her children after learning that none of the schools in her neighborhood were offering free meals. 211 texted her a list of five nearby food pantries, which she had Siri read aloud so that her oldest child could contact them to get the food they needed.
Frank, who is disabled and couldn’t get out for food, had been living on nothing but crackers for days. He called 211, saying he didn’t know if he could make it another day without a meal. 211 contacted Adult Protective Services and was able to get him food the same day.
In Colombia, only 44 of every 100 children entering school will graduate. With COVID-19 presenting new challenges to students and teachers, United Way Colombia is working to ensure children can continue their education at home and return to school ready to learn.
United Way Colombia is giving psychological and socio-emotional support to 3,350 teachers and 114,000 students and their families in 7 regions across the country. This support comes in a range of tools for kids, tips for parents and teachers, and virtual teacher training in creativity and mindfulness techniques. To help teachers facing new challenges presented by virtual teaching and learning, United Way established a “Virtual Maker Lab” that boosts teachers’ technological skills, including leveraging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and mass media like radio and TV for effective distance learning.
To help those simply looking for ways to keep kids occupied and keep learning at home, United Way Colombia has lists of ideas for activities that parents and kids to do together like dancing, board games, watching movies, cooking and other fun, healthy activities. Also, United Way Colombia is providing videos and images about how to stimulate children’s creativity, how to take care of mental health, benefits of meditation, music and reading during this time of quarantine.
Even as spring breakers continued to flock to Miami’s beaches as if it were just another March, United Way of Miami-Dade was in high gear – getting out information, distributing food and supplies, and organizing healthy volunteers to make sure our most vulnerable neighbors get the help they need. As schools and senior meal centers closed, United Way of Miami-Dade set up phone banks to get out the word and connect people with volunteer-packed meals for pickup and delivery.
Together, with partners across Miami, they created Operation Helping Hands, a coordinated, community-wide response to COVID-19 that is connecting people and small businesses to their network of service agency partners. In the first three weeks, Operation Helping Hands supported 4,600 people who had lost jobs and helped to pay the rent, keep the lights on and get groceries.
As the pandemic continues, the number of people stepping up to volunteer is increasing. ReadingPals volunteers are recording Let’s Read: Online Storytelling videos for Early Head Start students to help feed children’s minds, while other volunteers focus on feeding the body. Volunteers packed and handed out baskets of fresh produce to struggling families at United Way Miami’s first food drive recently.
When a call came through from a homeless woman in Atlanta who was worried she was infected with the coronavirus, 211 was quick to act. United Way of Greater Atlanta connected the woman with Catholic Charities, which in turn secured her a free hotel room for the duration of her self-isolation.
She explained afterwards how many of her resources were unavailable due to the coronavirus. “I usually don’t reach out for help,” she said, “I usually just roll with the punches,” but after she was unable to find food or a safe place to stay, she made the call to 211. “There are places out there that really want to help you get on your feet like Catholic Charities and like United Way 211,” she said. “I can’t wait until this thing is over so I can go out there and volunteer and help other people….so I can show that this didn’t go unappreciated.”
211 has seen calls dramatically increase in the last month. Call specialists are fielding 75,000 calls per day, compared to the usual call volume of 35,000.
Funds from United Way Worldwide’s COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund are supporting 211 call centers and the dedicated call specialists who answer calls from individuals in need and connect them to necessities like housing, food and healthcare services.
With schools closed and afterschool programs shuttered, kids who rely on them for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner too, are at home with empty cupboards and empty bellies. Through their Afterschool Matters program, which serves over 550 youth ages 10-16, United Way Niagara knows these children and their families. They also know that their community partners – foodbanks across region – are struggling to meet the skyrocketing demand.
Seeing this need, United Way Niagara went to work, securing bulk food donations from corporate partners like Post Cereal, who donated over 2,000 boxes of cereal to this effort, and searching out suppliers who could fill the gaps. "The supply chains are a little short now because everyone is buying, so it took us a week and half to track down someone who could sell us quantities of food like that," said executive director, Frances Hallworth.
While the bulk food suppliers delivered the more than $50,000 in food secured by United Way to eight foodbanks across the region, United Way staff got in their cars to deliver care packages to the 200 After School Matters families. Every week since the crisis began, they have been packing and delivering educational activities and food to the families. "Delivering food is not something we normally do," said Hallworth, but that hasn’t stopped United Way Niagara from stepping up to fill the need.
With many elderly adults already facing serious problems, from poverty and chronic diseases to isolation and loneliness, the COVID-19 pandemic is posing new threats to an already vulnerable population.
In Romania, there are many older residents who live alone on a small income, like Mrs. I. After spending her childhood helping with her siblings instead of attending school, Mrs. I sought a life of her own and moved to Bucharest to earn a living in construction. When an illness caused her to retire, and a divorce left her without a place to go, Mrs. I moved into her sister’s house, where she now lives alone. Despite a lifetime of hard work, she has spent nearly all of her earnings on medicine and does not have family to fall back on.
The story of Mrs. I. is like many others: someone who needs their community to step up and support them, especially now. Thankfully, helping those in vulnerable situations is part of the fiber of United Way Romania. Through a health program for the elderly, they provide food, medicines and basic medical services to those who are sick or live alone.
During COVID-19, United Way Romania started an online fundraising campaign for partners and donors to provide aid to the elderly and children and families in distress. The campaign will work to provide 1,520 packs of long-lasting food items and hygiene products, with 1,050 designated for the elderly and 470 for families in difficult situations.
When communities come together, no one is truly isolated. Not even Mrs. I.
United Way always steps up for our communities, but during a crisis as drastic and long-lasting as COVID-19, we’re going above and beyond to help those most in need.
Take United Way of Broward County, for example. They are doubling efforts to provide food, housing, and training to get their community through this crisis, by:
• Reaching out to veterans at risk to provide housing, even in the middle of the night
• Providing daily meals for children, families, seniors, veterans and homeless individuals
• Doubling food deliveries of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and more to 22 neighboring food banks
• Delivering hygiene supplies like masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, toilet paper etc. to facilities and health care providers
• Housing families that are currently homeless and providing increased funding for other families facing homelessness
• Mailing books and reading kits to 150 families with young children
• Conducting weekly “lunch and learns” on critical topics such as suicide prevention and mental health
• Providing crisis intervention training for first responders with a special focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, certifying over 2,000 officers
As part of their comprehensive approach to helping the community, United Way of Broward County is also putting a personal touch on their COVID-19 response. Recently, they provided extra support to Liliana, who left an abusive domestic relationship in Canada and moved to Florida with her teenage son, Andrew.
As COVID-19 cases spread throughout India, the United Way India network is working in areas that are most vulnerable or at greatest risk – hospitals and health workers.
To protect those at the frontlines―doctors, nurses, technicians and hospital staff― United Way is providing personal protective equipment to hospitals, private health centers and isolation units. This equipment includes protective gear like masks and gloves, shoe covers, disposable gowns, goggles and hand sanitizer dispensers.
These materials have been distributed at KEM Hospital, Gokuldas Tejpal Hospital and Bhabha Hospital in Mumbai, including by United Way Mumbai staff members.
Elizabeth Schneider, a Washington resident who recently recovered from COVID-19, is using her experience to help those impacted by the virus. In an interview with Pix 11 News, Schneider shares her story to raise awareness of her experience with the illness and encourage others to follow important protocols like social distancing and isolation to slow the spread of the virus.
But Schneider is going beyond the call of duty and working with United Way of King County in Seattle to raise a goal of $10,000 to help those financially impacted by the crisis.