Facebook Twitter Instagram LinkedIN 211.ca - opens in a new window

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIN

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 regular 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.  



On Giving Tuesday (December 1), I was joined by West Neighbourhood House’s Executive Director Maureen Fair on CBC Toronto’s nightly newscast. We shared how United Way programs and agencies are making such an incredible difference in community right now. I also got the message out on CHUM, Virgin Radio, CP24 and 680 NEWS, and I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you who made a gift.


More than $5.2 million in federal funding is now on its way to 150+ local agencies so they can provide vital supports to our community—everything from food and counselling to shelter and online programming. This is the second round of Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF) allocations to United Way Greater Toronto and reinforces our deep knowledge of local issues, strong roots in community and commitment to equity. Combined with the first round of ECSF funding allocated this past summer, a total of $20.8 million has been directed to more than 425 community service agencies in Peel, Toronto and York Region. These funds will serve many populations impacted by COVID-19, with 85 per cent of projects identifying as reaching low-income individuals and those who are racialized.


Indigenous-led crisis response teams will replace police officers on mental health calls and wellness checks as part of a new pilot project in the works in Scarborough. Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, a United Way-supported agency, will design and run the pilot in the Kingston and Galloway roads area with the support of Toronto Police and community-based health groups.


Did you miss our special section in the Toronto Star on November 21? Covering everything from how we’re supporting women experiencing violence, to the innovative new ways we’re getting culturally appropriate food to people experiencing food insecurity, this series of articles is a powerful demonstration of what supporters like you make possible in community. Read all about it.


The Toronto Foundation released its annual Vital Signs report—a curation of the trends and issues impacting quality of life in the GTA—on November 13. The report looks at the last seven months through an equity lens, twinning the pandemic and a historic reckoning with structural racism. It leaves no question that the greatest challenge is not “building back” or “building better” but working towards something we have yet to achieve: a just and inclusive community.


I joined proud United Way supporter IBM, and a panel of other experts, on October 17 for a conversation on how to get Canadians back to work in a post-pandemic future. Watch a recording of this engaging conversation.


The federal government announced on October 27 that they are investing $1 billion in a new Rapid Housing Initiative to create up to 3,000 new permanent affordable housing units across the country—including $500 million for municipalities to purchase properties to help find housing for people experiencing homelessness in time for winter. Amidst this announcement we’re continuing our work with local municipalities, including work alongside the City of Toronto on the Housing and Homelessness Recovery Response Plan, informed in part by the Interim Shelter Recovery Strategy that we partnered with the city to develop, and the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness, which has advocated for more permanent affordable housing in the region.


I sat down recently with BMO Financial Group CEO Darryl White as part of the International Economic Forum of the Americas (Toronto Global Forum) to talk about how resilient economies are inclusive economies. We’re grateful for BMO’s leadership in helping us drive cross-sectoral solutions at a local level, including a pilot project in Greater Toronto’s Golden Mile that is helping create inclusive local economic opportunity for residents.


Addressing anti-Black racism in our schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods is up to all of us. Join us for a virtual discussion featuring a panel of corporate and community leaders from the GTA’s Black community as they share important work underway on our path towards ending systemic racism. From creating career pathways for Black employees to ensuring schools are removing barriers, and creating opportunities for BIPOC students, our panelists will share what’s working on our journey towards a more inclusive future. Register today.


In the past several weeks we have seen an alarming escalation of violence towards the Muslim community in the GTA. United Way stands with our Muslim colleagues and communities against all forms of hatred, bigotry and threats to individuals' and families' safety and well-being. Read our special statement.


Addressing anti-Black racism in our schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods is up to all of us. Join us for a much-anticipated virtual discussion featuring a panel of corporate and community experts from the GTA’s Black community. From creating career pathways for Black employees to ensuring schools are removing barriers, and creating opportunities for BIPOC students, our panellists will share what’s working on our journey towards a more inclusive future.


I shared my thoughts on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through racialized and low-income neighbourhoods in a recent Toronto Star op-ed.


The Social Medicine Initiative, a partnership between us, the University Health Network (UHN) and the City of Toronto, is working to develop a parcel of vacant land in Parkdale for affordable housing and supportive living. This is a great example of how, while the pandemic has posed great challenges, it has also opened the door to solutions and opportunities that have only been imagined but could now be realized.


COVID-19 case counts are growing, but the real alarm bells are ringing for the high rates of positive tests in certain Toronto neighbourhoods. Our community coordination tables have been working in many of these neighbourhoods since the beginning of the pandemic, helping to mitigate the effects of this disproportionate impact by ensuring no needs for services and support are left unmet. In this CBC Metro Morning clip with host Ismaila Alfa, Cheryl Prescod, Executive Director of the Black Creek Community Health Centre, talks about how and why it got so bad, and what's next.


On October 15, United Way Centraide Canada announced the expansion of 211 across the country through an investment from the Emergency Community Support Fund by the Government of Canada. Previously only available in some provinces (including in Ontario, where it is supported by your generous donations), 211 is now a free, multi-lingual and confidential nationwide service that is connecting people to critical social and community support at a time when it has never been needed more.


A new COVID-19 testing site specifically for Indigenous people has opened. Developed by United Way-funded agency Na-Me-Res, in collaboration with local health partners, including St. Michael's Hospital, the testing site and outreach workers will help eliminate barriers—racial and cultural—and improve access to COVID-19 support for members of the Indigenous community. “We saw in the first wave how there were gaps in the ability of non-Indigenous services to meet the needs of the Indigenous community. That's why we need our own agencies to do it. We need to use our own community networks and relationships to make sure that Indigenous people have Indigenous specific pathways," said Dr. Janet Smylie of St. Michael's Hospital.


As Ontario reports rising COVID-19 rates, Peel Region has been particularly hard hit, with the highest proportion of cases in the province and focused primarily in Brampton. While several factors—including a large labour force in the transportation sector, international travel and multi-generational housing—play a role in the high rates, it’s important not to put the blame on residents. "You have an area that's under-resourced, under-supported and then you throw a pandemic at it," said Gurpreet Malhotra, CEO of Indus Community Services, a United Way-supported agency. Since March, we’ve approved more than $2.1 million in rapid response emergency funding to 199 projects across the GTA, including several helping individuals and families in Brampton. These include:

  • Canadian and African Women Aid Program (trusteed by Northwood Neighbourhood Services) – New funding will provide Afro-Black immigrants in Brampton, particularly seniors, with public health precaution gear, grocery cards and volunteer support.
  • Free for All Foundation – New funding will provide laptops to enable remote support for seniors as well as grocery cards and essentials for racialized seniors and marginalized Black families in Brampton.
  • The Journey Neighbourhood Centre – New funding will provide grocery cards for Muslim families to access culturally appropriate food in Brampton, supporting single parents, seniors and racialized individuals.


Collage of photos of different people who are giving back during the pandemic.

These are incredibly challenging times. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that there is remarkable power and impact in coming together as a community to support each other as we navigate our way through this crisis. Meet four GTA residents who are showing their local love (from a social distance) by finding creative and safe ways to be of service to each other.

Three red dots with white copy reading: $2.1 million invested, 199 projects, 166K+ people helped.

We launched the Local Love Fund in March 2020 in response to a dramatic surge in urgent, and ongoing, human needs caused by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This one-time fund, which supported more than 160,000 people, provided new funding for nearly 200 projects delivered by our GTA-wide network of agencies as well as several new, grassroots organizations. Help for isolated seniors. Mental health supports. Food hampers. Just a few of the ways our donors, including people like you, showed their local love for community during the first wave of the pandemic. Thank you!

Screenshot of Paul Taylor speaking during the panel.

No sector has been spared by the impact of COVID-19, but charities and non-profits (a sector that employs 10 per cent of the full-time workforce in Canada and accounts for 8.5 per cent of Canada’s GDP) have been hit hard by the pandemic—even as demand for the services they provide is at an all-time high. In early November, TVO's The Agenda brought together a panel of sector leaders, including Paul Taylor, Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, a United Way-funded agency, to discuss the challenges facing charities both now and as they look to the future.


Photo of two people performing on stage with the copy “The 519 Annual Gala”

How’s this for a star-studded lineup? The 519, a United Way-supported agency, hosted its first-ever virtual gala on October 25 featuring a lineup of A-list celebrities, including k.d. lang, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Elton John who showed their support for the LGBTQ2S community during this challenging time.

Photo of a mother and daughter posing outside their house with the copy “United for hope”

Proud United Way supporter TD Bank Group has released this powerful new video rallying people across the GTA to come together and give to United Way to ensure no one is left behind during these incredibly challenging times.

A headshot of Bharat Masrani

As charities suffer through the pandemic, those with means can, and must, do more to help says Bharat Masrani, Group President and CEO of TD Bank Group and United Way Campaign Chair, in this moving Globe and Mail op-ed.

A photo of people holding multi-coloured puzzle pieces together

Our very own Nation Cheong, Vice President of Community Opportunities & Mobilization, and McCarthy Tétrault’s Chief Inclusion Officer, Nikki Gershbain, share five tips on how to make your workplace more inclusive in a recent Imagine a City blog post.

A graphic showing people doing various physical activities with the copy: GetUP #UP4Community

Are you or your family spending too much time in front of your screens lately? We hear you! And we’ve got the perfect opportunity for you to GetUP, get off your devices and move your body to help raise funds for GTA people and families who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Register for our brand new virtual physical challenge by October 11 and you’ll get 25% off the registration fee (and a snazzy United Way buff). Sign up now!



Photo the 'Housing a Generation of Essential Workers 2' report on a tablet.

COVID-19 has accelerated the affordable housing crisis in Toronto. In 2018, home prices went up four times faster than income and rent increased two times as much as wages. One in five Toronto renters live in overcrowded units. The Toronto Region Board of Trade and United Way-supported WoodGreen Community Services released a recent report that looks at how we house the next generation of essential workers.


Photo of a plate full of breakfast foods.

A recent report from the Daily Bread Food Bank says it expects this year will see the highest number of food bank visits ever recorded in Toronto. This follows on a concerning increase that started last spring. Food bank visits grew by 22 per cent in June compared to the same period the year before and then by 51 per cent in August compared to 2019. Eighty-five per cent of food bank recipients also said they did not always have enough food to eat even after accessing food banks.

United Way has always worked in food security, and we’ve ramped up those efforts since last March by ensuring flexibility in funding so that many of our agencies could pivot to meet urgent needs. We also continue to work with government and community agencies at local coordination tables to coordinate food prep and distribution, including the Prepared Meals Initiative partnership with MLSE, Second Harvest and the City of Toronto.


Photo of someone on a laptop watching the neighbourhood tour.

Did you know we’re offering virtual tours of select neighbourhoods across the GTA? Get to know Regent Park and Moss Park in this self-guided, up-close-and-personal look at the vibrant community of Toronto’s Downtown East, including the people and families who live there, and some of the challenges these communities are facing in the wake of the pandemic.

Watch Close to Home: Exploring Regent Park and Moss Park.

A photo of a cardboard box filled with fresh produce and groceries

Hunger has emerged as an urgent, #UNIGNORABLE issue during this pandemic. But sometimes understanding what food insecurity looks like, depending on where you live, can be difficult. Read more from General Mills Canada Corporation President and Managing Director Dale Storey and our own Keisa Campbell, Manager of Neighbourhoods and Community Investment, on a unique community-corporate partnership that is creating a recipe for local change in Mississauga.

Photo of someone reading the report on their iPad

After decades of emergency response to homelessness, there is growing recognition of the need to focus efforts on longer-term outcomes. The United Way-P & L Odette Charitable Foundation Homelessness Solutions Lab brought together experts who are innovating and working on solutions—service providers, academics, government partners—to uncover and share the most impactful practices to address homelessness. Read the report for key recommendations, including Indigenous-led solutions for Indigenous homelessness and evidence-based practices that will help drive the shift from managing to ending homelessness.