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Few Americans have enough in savings to cover an emergency, and that's just worsened with the pandemic. One unexpected bill can knock the average family off of a stable financial path.

For anyone already struggling, the pandemic has them to the brink. Millions have been laid off, furloughed or seen their hours and wages cut. United Way continues to step up to help individuals and families cover utilities, rent, or other forms of emergency assistance. While many are predicting economic recovery in 2021, we’ll continue to be there for those left behind.

In the pandemic's first year, United Way Worldwide provided rent and mortgage assistance to over 109,000 households and paid more than 100,000 utility bills.

Getting a Second Chance At a Good Job in New Orleans 

Cornell Hood is focused on his future. Sentenced to life in prison for a drug charge, he studied for hours in the prison law library and won his release after eight years. He’s vowed to never return.

When the pandemic began, Cornell came to the Urban League of Louisiana’s Office of Workforce Development, joining its Career Pathways Program just as the training program went virtual. “This is my second chance,” Cornell said. “My goal is to make this opportunity work for me and my family.”

Louisiana has the country’s highest incarceration rates, and re-entry can be tough. The Urban League has worked hard to develop a steady pipeline of ready-to-work individuals, especially the formerly incarcerated. COVID added additional financial pressures, but through Urban League partnerships with other community organizations, many returning citizens, like Cornell, received a small stipend, as he reached milestones in Urban League’s Career Pathways Program for job training. 

Ride United: Transportation & Food Access in 37 U.S. Cities

When Veronica called 211 in Tallahassee, Florida, she was living at a local homeless shelter and looking hard for stable employment. She’d gotten an interview for a full-time job but lacked a car or public transit access to get there. 

Through Ride United, 211 got her a free ride to and from her interview. Veronica was offered the position, now works full time, and has moved into an apartment.

Launched in 2018 with our partner Lyft, United Way's Ride United: Transportation Access is available through local United Ways and 211 agencies in 37 cities across the U.S. So far, it's provided more than 34,000 free rides to job interviews, medical appointments, grocery stores, food pantries, and more. The program is accessed through 211, the vital service that connects millions of people to resources and assistance in the U.S. and Canada every year.

Ride United: Last Mile Delivery, a partnership with Door Dash that’s serving 250 communities across the U.S., recently was awarded a 2021 BIG Innovation Award. This initiative provides free delivery of food and essential items from local food banks, food pantries, and other distribution points to senior citizens, low-income families, and those who can’t leave home. A senior in Akron, Ohio, and her disabled husband are caregivers for their young grandson but struggle financially. Thanks to Ride United, they received a food box that included fresh produce and real fruit juice for their grandson, which they usually can't afford.

Since April 2020, this effort has provided more than 300,000 free deliveries of 2.4 million meals, supporting over 22,000 households with food pantry boxes, food bank meals, and other essential items. United Way and 211 work with local food pantry partners to identify those in need of essential deliveries. United Way works with more than 220 local community partners, including food pantries, schools, community gardens, and places of worship, to facilitate deliveries. Its success has generated additional support from the Albertsons Companies Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Ciara and Russell Wilson and their Why Not You Foundation, and others.

Innovation Gets Food To People in Rural Virginia 

To limit exposure to COVID-19, many of us have turned to online grocery delivery services to keep our families fed and thriving. But many rural areas, like Virginia’s Eastern Shore, may lack the digital infrastructure for online grocery services. 

Shore Delivery Corps, partially funded by United Way of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, mobilizes volunteers to provide free grocery delivery services to older adults and individuals with existing health issues. To learn more, check out this Innovation Case Study created by United Way Worldwide.

Providing Child Care for Front-Line Workers in Texas

Necessity is the mother of invention, so when local school districts shuttered their facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way of Abilene reimagined solutions for the community. That included a plan for easing the child care burden faced by essential workers shouldering the brunt of the public health crisis.

In collaboration with local school districts, afterschool programs and more, United Way launched the Abilene United Day Camp in two locations. 

The camps were open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to accommodate parents’ schedules. Children had play and enrichment activities, educational sessions, and help with assignments from teacher volunteers, along with free breakfast and lunch. Meals were provided by the schools, and United Way’s corporate partners stepped up to underwrite lunch for camp staff. Other nonprofits contributed supplies for activities like mask-making and other fun projects. In its first three months, the camps served 229 children between the ages of 5 and 12, giving front-line workers the freedom to focus on their demanding jobs.

211 Keeps Essential Worker Afloat 

Sophia was an essential worker with a serious underlying medical condition, prompting her doctor to advise her to leave her job when the pandemic started. She did, crossing her fingers that her Social Security eligibility would assist her.

But within three weeks, her savings was gone. Her Social Security approval was mired in red tape. And then her sister died from COVID-19. As Sophia's health deteriorated from stress and grief, she got an eviction notice. 

A friend advised her to contact 211. Two days later, Sophia received help with rent and prescriptions. United Way also connected her to local food pantries. With this support, Sophia was able to stay in her home and care for her health until her Social Security benefits came through. “We are put on Earth for a reason, and your 211 representative was placed in that position to serve the people,” she said. “Thank you, United Way.”

Supporting Small Business Owners in Los Angeles 

Marcia never planned for a pandemic to shatter her small business in 2020. “This came out of nowhere,” she said. 

A single mom, Marcia owns an HR business that places workers, such as nannies and caregivers, in people’s homes. For the past few summers, she’s supplemented her income by working in television production. But as the pandemic spread, Marcia couldn’t find clients or supplemental work.

Marcia wasn’t alone. According to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, some 22% of America’s businesses were sidelined by spring 2020. This drop in active business ownership was unprecedented, with losses experienced across nearly every industry. The shutdown was especially tough on people of color, with Black-owned businesses seeing a 41% drop in activity, Hispanic business activity falling by 32%, and Asian business activity declining by 26%.

Marcia’s utility bills began to stack up and she struggled to pay her mortgage. “I had a modest amount of savings, but not enough to get through many months of this.” She applied to A New Way of Life’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, underwritten by BET and United Way. After speaking with Marcia to assess her greatest needs, United Way of Greater Los Angeles paid for her utilities (including bills in arrears) and a month of her mortgage, totaling $2,700.

“I’m really grateful this fund was available for people like me who are struggling,” Marcia said. “There aren’t many assistance programs available for homeowners. This is a godsend...It gave me time to research and develop a plan.”

Cardinal Health Advances COVID Response in Six Countries

Cardinal Health, a global, integrated healthcare services and products company, stepped up to help United Way Worldwide provide targeted pandemic relief in France, Mexico, Philippines, Japan, Canada, and Ireland.

From personal protection equipment (PPE) to nutrition and hygiene kits, these relief efforts are helping those most in need, including young children, single-parent families, and refugee, migrant, and indigenous communities.

For example, many migrant and refugee communities in Mexico lack access to essential health services. That makes early detection, testing, contact tracing, and receiving care difficult for an already vulnerable population. To combat this issue, United Way Mexico (Fondo Unido) is partnering with The UN Refugee Agency to provide PPE and medical equipment to help improve hygiene and sanitation in shelters, and to reduce the spread of the virus.

In addition, Cardinal Health and United Way are working to provide PPE for school children and teachers in France; connect hundreds of young children to nutrition and education assistance in the Philippines; support low-wage families, especially those with young children and single-parent households, in Japan; expand homeless relief services for indigenous communities in Canada; and bring wellness support to older people in rural communities through ALONE, a support network for the elderly in Ireland.

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