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A community response to COVID-19

United Way is dedicated to helping our vulnerable friends and neighbours get the support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be providing weekly updates on how we’re using your donations to take action on the frontlines of our community. You can also read our archive to see how we have been meeting urgent needs since March.  



Since March, United Way Greater Toronto has approved more than $2.1 million in emergency funding to 198 projects across the GTA, including rapid response initiatives in the communities most impacted by COVID-19:

  • Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women – New funding will purchase used laptops to enable young mothers, seniors and newcomer students in Black Creek and Humber Summit to access supports online.

  • Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre – New funding will support neighbourhood leaders in assisting 1,500-2,500 residents across five buildings with crisis response, including food hampers.

  • TNO - The Neighbourhood Organization – New funding will deliver 1,000 culturally appropriate food hampers to isolated seniors in Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park and St. James Town.


More than 2 million meals have been provided to people and families made vulnerable by the pandemic as a result of a partnership between the City of Toronto and a number of community organizations, including United Way. The Food Security Table, which consists of city staff and representatives from United Way, Daily Bread Food Bank, FoodShare Toronto, North York Harvest Food Bank, Second Harvest, Red Cross, Toronto Public Library and The Salvation Army, continues to meet regularly to discuss food access gaps in the community and how they can be filled.


We are pleased to share our 2019-2020 Annual Report with you, which highlights the need, now more than ever, for a united way through these challenging times. We hope you’ll take the time to learn more about how you, along with thousands of other caring individuals across the GTA, are helping to keep our community strong and connected.


Access to food has emerged as one of the most important, and ongoing, needs during the pandemic and has reinforced the connection between food security and equity. United Way-supported agencies Black Creek Community Farm and FoodShare Toronto have been connecting the issue of hunger with the other social determinants of health—race, class, health and housing—as they respond to growing need. They’ve delivered hundreds of FoodShare’s Good Food Boxes (full of fresh produce) to local residents, including seniors, racialized families and those who are precariously employed. They’ve also partnered with 50 other community organizations to deliver 20,000+ emergency food boxes to more than 500 Foodora couriers who lost their jobs as well as Black and Indigenous families who had to self-isolate after attending a protest march at the end of May. The agency is also working with families living in rental apartments in the Flemingdon Park, Black Creek and York South-Weston communities, offering do-it-yourself balcony gardening kits.


Applications for the federally funded Emergency Community Support Fund (of which United Way Greater Toronto received $11 million) closed June 19. We plan to notify agencies as soon as possible with our funding decisions so that programs can start by the end of July. These one-time emergency grants will help agencies meet the urgent needs of vulnerable individuals and families affected by COVID-19. Learn more about additional federally funded programs we’re supporting in community.


On June 4, more than 120 United Way staff members came together virtually for an emotional and, at times, painful conversation on systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in the GTA. As an organization, and individually, we remain deeply committed to our values of diversity, inclusion and equity. We are listening, learning and working towards a better future. This includes reflecting on the words of Kofi Hope, former executive director of United Way agency CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals, who shared his powerful thoughts on how we need to seize this moment to create a real shift in how Canada relates to its Black communities.


We’re continuing our ongoing work administering federal Reaching Home investments in York Region. This work, part of Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, has taken on new urgency during the pandemic. Now, in close partnership with the Regional Municipality of York, the York Region Homelessness Community Advisory Board and the homelessness community table, we’ve committed more than $2.8 million in additional Reaching Home emergency funds to programs that address the impacts of COVID-19 among people experiencing homelessness.


You may be used to us kicking off our annual campaign in the fall, but, as we are all fond of saying, these are “unprecedented times.” COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people and families who are least able to bear its effects. And we are going to need your help now more than ever before. Our 2020 fundraising campaign is being co-chaired by Bharat Masrani, Group President and CEO of TD Bank Group and our Campaign Chair, and Joanna Rotenberg, Group Head, BMO Wealth Management, BMO Financial Group and our Major Individual Giving Cabinet Chair. Together, they are leading a group of dedicated volunteers to mobilize local love across the GTA. Our goal? To ensure our vital social safety net will continue to support those who need it most as we recover, and rebuild, from the pandemic.


On June 1, we announced a partnership with the City of Toronto to develop a medium-term COVID-19 shelter response strategy with a shared goal of helping the local shelter system manage during the crisis. A joint report will be shared in July and will include suggestions on how to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the shelter system, ensure co-ordination with the health system and leverage opportunities presented by the pandemic.


It’s been called a “pandemic by postal code” and preliminary data released by the City of Toronto suggests neighbourhoods with a higher proportion of low-income residents, more racialized groups and newcomers, and more unemployed people have higher rates of COVID-19. We know from United Way research that not everyone in this region has the same ability to get their needs met and to get ahead: increasingly, it’s things you can’t control, including your race, gender and postal code, that determine your success. This is the kind of evidence that informs our investment approach—before, during and after the pandemic.


Exterior of the Native Child and Family Services of Toronto building.

Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, a United Way-supported agency, is offering an innovative way for the children it serves to spend some much-needed time outside while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. Staff from the agency will be piloting a program in Toronto parks that offers wellness checks for children as well as programming that boosts kids’ physical and mental health during this period of isolation.

Closeup photo of a keyboard with one red key with the word "Donate" on it.

Donating to anti-racism organizations here in the GTA—and across Canada—is one way that you can show your support for, and allyship with, your Black friends and neighbours who experience this systemic issue. Here are 25 charities, organizations and agencies where you can make a gift.


Illustration of woman paddling in a canoe surrounded by flowers.

For National Indigenous History Month and Pride Month, we’ve put together a short list of resources for you to listen to and learn from members of the GTA’s Indigenous and LGBTQ2S communities:


Close up of a keyboard where one of the keys reads "Donate".

Do you run an employee giving campaign in your workplace? We’ve assembled a stellar collection of resources in our Campaign Toolkit to make your job easier. We've got you covered with everything from stories and videos to fundraising best practices.


Screenshot of United Way President & CEO speaking to the camera during his video update.

I recorded a special message of thanks to the incredible frontline community workers at 12 United Way-supported agencies who were recognized as part of Community Worker Recognition Week. You can read more about these amazing individuals, who are helping people stay housed, supporting children and teens and bringing vital services to our Indigenous community, on our blog.

We had an incredible turnout for our first-ever virtual town hall in York Region. Community members, donors and agency staff joined us to talk about their local love in action across the GTA. Panellists included the Honourable Deb Schulte, Minister of Seniors and MP, King-Vaughan, Cordelia Abankwa, General Manager, Social Services, The Regional Municipality of York and Greg MacKenzie, Chief Legal Officer & Corporate Secretary, 407 ETR. Don’t worry, if you missed the event you can watch a recording below.

Screenshot of the York Region town hall, which was held on Zoom, showing 25 viewers clapping.


Screenshot of people on the AGM Zoom call.

More than 400 people attended our first-ever virtual Annual General Meeting on June 23. Didn’t get a chance to join us? You can watch a recording of the meeting, featuring an engaging panel discussion with the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and MP, York South-Weston; Toyo Ajibolade, Executive Director, Lady Ballers Camp and Beth Wilson, CEO, Dentons Canada LLP.

Screenshot from the Peel Town Hall showing the screens of some of the people who participated.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve come together virtually with more than 500 community members in Peel and York regions as part of our online town halls. Don’t worry, if you missed these community conversations—featuring a group of distinguished panellists—you can watch recorded versions of the Peel and York town halls.

Screenshot from the Peel Town Hall showing the screens of some of the people who participated.

We had an incredible turnout for our first-ever virtual town hall for Peel Region on June 11. More than 240 community members, donors and agency staff joined us to talk about their local love in action across the GTA. Panellists included Sonia Pace, Director, Community Partnerships, The Regional Municipality of Peel; Sharon Floyd, Executive Director, Interim Place; and Blair Peberdy, Vice President, Government & Corporate Relations, Alectra Inc. Don’t worry, if you missed the event you can watch a recording here.

Screenshot of United Way President & CEO Daniele Zanotti addressing the camera.

We continue to receive questions from our supporters asking about both our urgent and long-term response to COVID-19. In my video update this week, I provide some details on the progress United Way agencies are making when it comes to our community response and talk about when we’ll start to shift from a focus on emergency funding to long-term community recovery.

Two people in masks standing next to the open trunk of a car carrying food deliveries.

Our agencies and their staff, who are on the frontlines of community every day, are doing incredible work. We can’t thank them enough and this short video is our tribute to them. And, thanks to you and your support, these incredible community heroes can continue to do this important work in the weeks, months and years to come.

Screenshot from our latest video conference, showing the four participants' faces.

In our latest webinar, Daniele Zanotti was joined by frontline experts who shared first-hand accounts of how some of our community’s most vulnerable are coping during this crisis. This includes women facing domestic abuse, our Indigenous communities and those experiencing homelessness. We hope you’ll watch our recording of the webinar to learn more about how your generosity makes a difference.