6 ways you can help your community during COVID-19

Looking for a way to support your community during this challenging time? We’ve rounded up six great ways you can show your local love, while keeping yourself and others safe.  

1. Volunteer  

Many organizations are in need of in-person and remote volunteers to deliver vital services and resources to community members—but they also need people to be patient.  

“At the local agencies, we are in crisis mode right now,” explains Maureen Fair, Executive Director of United Way-supported West Neighbourhood House. “We are inspired by the drive of people to volunteer, but we need to assess this crisis first, and assess our supply and need for personal protective equipment for our staff and volunteers.” 

Two great ways to find out where and how you can be useful right now is through Spark’s list of volunteer opportunities or Volunteer Toronto’s COVID-19 Volunteer Response Team email blasts. Both will help you find a way to get involved ASAP.  

2. Learn  

You may feel overwhelmed by the constant updates about COVID-19, but it’s important to stay informed about the situation in your community—and what is being asked of citizens. Check out United Way’s list of reliable resources to keep on top of local health and regional developments or check out your municipality’s website or social media channels for updates.  

If you want to keep up to date on how community agencies, local governments and United Way are working together to support our vulnerable friends and neighbours, you can check out this informative webinar that outlines United Way’s community response to COVID-19.

3. Connect  

When asked what people could do right now to help, United Way’s President and CEO Daniele Zanotti has a simple answer: “Call your friends and loved ones. Check in with them. Help them where it’s safe and if you can.” 

It’s critical that we keep reaching out to one another as we self-isolate. While you’re staying at home, give an elderly neighbour or family member a call to see how they’re doing. Offer to drop off groceries to people who don’t feel comfortable, or can’t, go to the store. Write a letter to a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them. Or join a caremongering Facebook group where you can offer moral support and assistance to people in your community.  

4. Share 

We could all use some cheering up these days, which is why we recommend sharing moments of laughter, joy and local love on your social media, in a group chat or with your family. It’s a great way to show people that they’re not alone—and that we can still come together while we’re #stayingathome.  

Need some inspiration? Check out the #caremongering hashtag on Twitter and Instagram!  

5. Give to your local food bank  

Food bank use was already on the rise in Toronto—and now, more than ever, people and families experiencing poverty or food insecurity need easy access to groceries. If you picked up one too many items on your last trip to the store, consider dropping your extras off at your local food bank. TorontoPeel and York Region are all calling for donations right now. 

6. Donate to United Way’s Local Love fund 

You can support United Way’s network of community agencies, which is providing on-the-ground support to people and families across the GTA, by donating to the Local Love Fund. Your gift will: 

  • ensure access to basic needs 
  • provide help for seniors 
  • ensure access to mental health supports  
  • keep our community services running 

Show your local love by giving generously today.  

Discovering the “unsung heroes” of our community

Raksha M. Bhayana

We often talk about the importance of a strong social safety net, or a circle of care that surrounds all of us—ensuring everyone has the help they need, when they need it and where they live. It’s this web of social supports, things like newcomer language services, mental health programs and employment resources, that help people build better lives. But behind these services and supports are the people who work tirelessly and passionately every day to make a difference in the lives of others. We spoke to Raksha M. Bhayana, a former United Way board member and champion of these frontline agency workers and staff to help us understand why these “unsung heroes” should be recognized and celebrated.

1. You started your own career in social services before moving to the corporate sector to join your family business. Tell us a bit about your experience.

I have a Master’s degree in social work, and I was one of those idealistic Boomers who wanted to change the world. I especially wanted to help youth have more opportunities. My last position was at Family Services Toronto. I was responsible for directing all of the agency’s programs, which included supports for women experiencing violence, adults and couple counselling, seniors’ wellness and support programs, case management for individuals with developmental disabilities. I was also responsible for government relations and designing new programs based on emerging needs. Before Family Services, I was at a children’s mental health centre, where I was director of the Child and Family Clinic.

2. What do you think motivates agency and community services staff, who you’ve said are often the “unsung heroes” of the sector, to do the important work that they do?

The motivation is primarily intrinsic. They care, and are driven by their passion and ideals. The have the skills, the expertise and creativity to help people make changes. They help people improve their quality of life and their sense of well-being. I think there’s tremendous satisfaction in watching people change, and being a part of bringing that change about.

3. Working in the social services sector can be incredibly rewarding—but also challenging. Describe some of these challenges?

I think one of the biggest challenges is the increasing demand for support. There are always waiting lists from people seeking help. You can get a call from a woman being assaulted by her partner, a suicidal single parent—I’ve been through all of these scenarios. Every day is different. One day you might hear from an isolated senior who needs support or from a young person who has just left home and needs help. These can be very emotionally challenging situations to deal with. In many cases, we are also faced with limited resources, so you have to use a lot of ingenuity and creativity to get people the help they need. These are pretty special people to be able to deal with this kind of pressure.

4. The Bhayana Family Foundation Awards shines a light on the vital contributions of United Way agency staff who help fuel change across our communities. Why is this recognition so important?

The frontline staff talk about United Way/ Bhayana awards as the “Academy Awards” of the social services sector. When we started these awards more than nine years ago, we wanted to raise the profile of the entire social services sector, including the frontline workers who are such a big part of making change happen. We also wanted to raise awareness amongst the broader public for the incredible, and often challenging, work they do to support people and families in need. This is a sector, that as a whole, contributes economically and socially to society, yet has traditionally received little recognition for the work they do, compared to the private sector. We know this recognition is important because the research suggests there is a positive correlation between employee recognition and enhanced engagement, and performance of staff. When we celebrate these frontline workers and make them feel special and valued, we raise the bar of performance for the entire non-profit sector.

UPDATE: What is the precarity penalty?

Our guest blogger this week is Michelynn Laflèche, United Way Toronto & York Region’s Director of Research, Public Policy and Evaluation. Prior to joining United Way, she worked as a consultant with Civic Action and was Chief Executive of the Runnymede Trust, a leading social policy and research charity in the UK.

Michelynn Lafleche

Michelynn Laflèche
Director, Research, Public Policy and Evaluation
United Way Toronto & York Region

Job precarity is having a negative impact on the wellbeing of our residents—it’s something we’ve been talking about in our research for some time now.

What we’ve discovered in our newly released report, The Precarity Penalty: Executive Summary York Region is that this issue is widespread across York Region.  In fact, more than 40% of workers are in jobs with some degree of insecurity.

York Region—a place many consider affluent—is not immune to the problems facing Toronto’s downtown.

Our data tells us that people’s anxiety about work is interfering with their personal and family lives. More than half of the people surveyed earning low or middle incomes are experiencing this type of anxiety. The uncertainty of not knowing if and when you’ll work can be socially isolating.

Precarity-Penalty-YR-Bucket 3Not having access to childcare is another huge challenge for York Region residents—63.6% say it interferes with their work-life. How do you schedule your child’s daycare if your work schedule changes weekly or daily?

These challenges are real and significant, but they don’t paint the entire picture.  We also learned that in some instances, York Region residents actually fare better. Based on the sample size, we can’t draw definitive conclusions, but can make some interesting comparisons. We found that York Region residents who are precariously employed earn 10% higher individual incomes and 7% have higher household income.

All of this data is another important step in guiding and informing our work.  It underscores the need to address the growing issues that surround precarious employment and our commitment to do more.

And we are prepared to do more around this work with the help of our partners across all sectors. We’re committed to building a dynamic labour market, ensuring jobs are a pathway to employment and enhancing social supports for a new and improved labour market.