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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.  



North Etobicoke is among the GTA neighbourhoods most impacted by COVID-19. A United Way-led community co-ordination table is on the ground, convening local community agencies to identify urgent issues and quickly implement solutions to rising needs, including food security. This Etobicoke Guardian article, featuring expert insight from our own Vice President of Community Investment and Development, dives into our local community response


United Way-funded agencies Hope 24/7 and Interim Place report spiking rates of violence against women in Peel Region due to women being isolated with their abusers during the pandemic. Peel Region is partnering with United Way, local school boards, Peel Regional Police and local municipalities to address the issue through a community safety and well-being plan that will ensure women experiencing violence and their families are cared for and their needs are prioritized in COVID-19 response and recovery.


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.


Collage of three photos from the 519 showing groups of people participating in programming.

A recent survey by human rights non-profit Egale and Innovative Research Group found that LGBTQI2S Canadians have disproportionately been impacted by COVID-19, with 53 per cent of LGBTQI2S households facing layoffs or reduced hours compared to 39 per cent of the overall population. These findings track with early geographic data from public health departments across Canada indicating marginalized Canadians have borne the brunt of the economic, social and health impacts of the pandemic. The 519 Community Centre, a United Way-supported agency and a hub of Toronto’s LGBTQ2S community, is feeling this impact first hand. In response, they’ve adapted their services while continuing to meet rising needs in the community, including expanding their drop-in community meals to a daily takeout format.

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.

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.


Screenshot from the video showing Daniele Zanotti with a text overlay reading: “President & CEO Update”

I like to talk a lot about the “systems-level” change that your support makes possible in community. It’s a term that’s well understood in the social services sector but one that often needs explaining for other audiences. In my video update this week, I talk about what systemic change really means and how it translates to quantifiable, long-term impact for people and families made even more vulnerable by the pandemic. WATCH NOW.

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.