Recognizing the efforts of frontline community workers during COVID-19

United Way Greater Toronto and the City of Toronto joined forces this week to recognize the efforts of frontline community workers supporting our most vulnerable neighbours amid the COVID-19 crisis. Mayor John Tory proclaimed June 8 to 12 Community Worker Recognition Week in Toronto, highlighting the critical frontline services community workers are providing across the city during the pandemic.

Community workers at United Way agencies have stepped up to meet emergency needs: working tirelessly to deliver food hampers to families, find shelter for those who need it, connect isolated seniors with a friendly voice, and much more. They’re keeping vital programs going, from youth outreach to shelter services to newcomer and family support and beyond.

Each of these community workers are essential, each working harder than ever to help others amidst the pandemic and ensure no one in our community gets left behind. During Community Workers Week, we’re shining the spotlight on some of the many frontline heroes at United Way agencies, including:

Thelma Adelekun and her colleagues from six Rexdale Community Hub agencies have been providing essential services during the pandemic to area children, families and seniors, delivering cooked meals, food baskets and securing cellphones for seniors.

Ghaidaa Arbash, Syrian family support worker at WoodGreen Community Services, has stepped in to help families get their kids connected to online learning, ensure seniors have the supplies they need and serve as a translator between sponsors and newcomers.

Akhil Gopal and his colleagues at Warden Woods Community Centre have had to pivot from client visits to engaging with them virtually during the pandemic. They continue to support local residents facing substance abuse, food insecurity and homelessness.

Hafiz Khan, community outreach co-ordinator at The Neighbourhood Organization, has worked with the Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park communities for nearly a decade. During the pandemic, he has helped organize a team of 30 people to sew more than 3,000 cloth masks for East York’s Michael Garron Hospital.

Lindsay Kretschmer, executive director at Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council, and her colleagues from the council’s member agencies, have shifted from a policy and advocacy focus to frontline support, purchasing and delivering food and other essentials to ensure Toronto’s Indigenous communities have the resources they need to get through this time.

Sean and Tammy Peddle, the married duo who lead Furniture Bank Toronto’s social enterprise and program operations, are working to ensure local families and residents can still access essential items, co-ordinating safely distanced deliveries while clients can’t come to their warehouse.

Adanna Phillip, social supports manager at CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, usually works to connect youth with meaningful employment—during COVID-19, she’s also reaching out to ensure they have any resources they need, from food delivery to mental-health supports.

Trichelle Primo began attending Boys & Girls Clubs of East Scarborough when she was eight years old—now she’s the agency’s senior manager of children and teens, ensuring families have the resources they need during COVID-19, from engaging online kids’ programming to meal deliveries.

Haydar Shouly, senior manager of shelters and shelter programs at Dixon Hall, is helping to rehouse shelter clients to ensure their well-being during the pandemic.

Jeya Surendran (in green), a veteran settlement worker at North York Community House, is finding new ways to assist vulnerable newcomers during the pandemic—not easy to do at a distance, but she draws on her own experience as a refugee to help them build resilience and access resources.

Silvia Volpentesta, facilities co-ordinator for Family Service Toronto, is ensuring her colleagues can keep working during the pandemic, from overseeing deliveries to managing the logistics of operating a call centre from home. “We can’t let our clients down,” she says.

Sogol Zand, community engagement manager at Afghan Women’s Organization, ensures those in need in AWO’s community have the supplies and resources to get through the COVID-19 crisis, including overseeing food delivery, developing emergency grant applications and mental health outreach.

Toronto has more than 14,000 community-based not-for-profits that employ more than 200,000 people (not including volunteers). As the largest investor in social services next to government, United Way supports a network of 270 of these agencies across Peel, Toronto and York Region. And it’s the frontline community workers at these agencies that helped United Way provide 2.3 million services last year.

“In times like these, community matters,” says United Way Greater Toronto President and CEO Daniele Zanotti. “The need for support, close to home, has never been so vital. Behind every meal delivered, each reassuring voice on the line, all the efforts to ensure someone has a roof over their head at night, is a community worker.”

To mark Community Workers Week, United Way of Greater Toronto and the City of Toronto profiled these inspiring community workers on both organizations’ social media channels throughout the week. Follow United Way Greater Toronto on all our channels @UWGreaterTO.

Donate now to help show your local love and support this vital community work. Every dollar helps sustain a network of agencies close to where you live and work across Peel, Toronto and York Region. Help us ensure that everyone has the support they need to thrive—now, and long after the current crisis has passed.