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Addressing the impact of Omicron on our communities

January 15, 2022 by United Way Greater Toronto

Two masked individuals show a large collection of crates for a food security initiative

We’re ramping up support for local agencies so they can meet surging need across Peel, Toronto and York Region

Dear Friend,

It’s been a difficult start to the new year. While many of us were hoping 2022 would be a time to recover and rebuild, Omicron is putting our community back into a state of emergency.

The demand for services—food baskets, safe shelter, mental health support—is once again surging. But after two years of ongoing and dynamic response, our region’s social safety net has reached a breaking point. Local agencies are facing staff shortages and service interruptions, among other challenges.

This new reality demands a response—and United Way is taking action. Thanks to the support of people like you, we’re launching a new emergency fund which will grant up to $5,000 to local agencies, enabling them to provide critical in-person and in-home services and address service interruptions, including providing grocery cards and protective equipment to allow staff and volunteers to continue to work safely. We are also leading efforts to coordinate emergency responses of community services with agencies, local government and healthcare at community coordination tables to identify and address hyperlocal needs. Senior staff from United Way are at these tables, working with smaller local agencies to address program closures, redirect clients and lend staff to maintain essential services.

That’s not all, United Way-supported Findhelp is providing real-time updates of potential service gaps so they can be quickly resolved. And our partners Volunteer Toronto, Volunteer Markham and Volunteer MBC are on hand with volunteers, ready to be deployed as needed to maintain services.

No matter what new challenges may arise, we will continue to hold the line for the network of agencies that has already seen our community through so much. We will continue to make sure that people across our region can get the support they need, close to home. And we will continue to work on long-term solutions for affordable housing, good jobs and culturally appropriate services. Because the only way through this crisis is to stand united.

Always, and only, thank you.

Daniele Zanotti
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto

Things to Know Right Now


The pandemic is forcing us to take stock. What do we have, and what does our community really need now? Providing affordable housing is one of the things at the top of our list. It’s something that we have been advocating for, for as long as we have been United Way. And thanks to your generous support, it’s something that we will continue to fight for. That’s why we are welcoming the launch of a new pilot program in Mississauga that will undertake regular and proactive inspections of apartment buildings. This pilot program is a step towards addressing some of the urgent recommendations made in our Vertical Legacy report, which includes encouraging tower owners to maintain good repair and affordability of “legacy” buildings in our region. These towers, which are home to more than 200,000 households, can play a crucial role in helping to resolve our region’s affordable housing crisis—but only if investments support the ongoing affordability, viability and vitality of tower communities.


Since the pandemic began, it’s become more and more difficult for people to feel like they are part of their community. And as we experience another round of closures, it’s important to keep up hope and to maintain a sense of connection. That’s why United Way continues to fund community agencies that are innovating and finding new ways to bring programs online so that social connection isn’t severed by the pandemic; so that everyone can feel like they are part of a community that cares about them and their development. Agencies like Family Services York Region, which is addressing social isolation through engaging online programs for newcomers and low-income families. And Community Family Services of Ontario (CFSO), which is offering quick access to counselling for frontline health workers and their families, and individuals who are particularly affected by anxiety and tension within their families. We’re proud to partner with these resilient organizations that have increased their reach during these difficult times.


Pay rent or buy food. Those are the stark choices often faced by low-income families struggling to get by without adequate salaries or income supports to manage even the essentials of shelter and food. Now as the pandemic resurges, the number of individuals and families in this impossible circumstance is growing too. With last fall’s improving situation, income supports like the $500/week Canada Emergency Response Benefit dropped to the $300/week Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit—an amount that advocates point out is woefully inadequate today. As Deena Ladd, Executive Director of Workers’ Action Centre, told the Toronto Star, that plan needs to change, “It’s clear that this is a program designed before Omicron, and when case counts were going down, and governments were looking at how to wind down supports. It’s shocking.” United Way has a long history of supporting decent work and worker protections through our PEPSO research and advocacy for adequate and comprehensive income security, that doesn’t leave anyone behind—in good or bad times. We continue to work with partners and support leading advocacy organizations, including The Workers’ Action Centre and Social Planning Toronto, to push for progressive policies, most recently adding our voice to calls for emergency sick leave.

Updates from the Frontlines

Two cars drive down a busy street in the Greater Golden Mile

By now, you’ve heard about our Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) Initiative—a unique partnership led by United Way and BMO that is ensuring residents of the Greater Golden Mile benefit from development in their community. One pillar of this initiative is a construction joint venture between Aecon Group and not-for-profit community organization CIEO. This joint venture is set to harness upcoming redevelopment in the Golden Mile, spurred by construction of the Eglinton Crosstown, and make sure that some of the wealth and benefit generated remains with residents. The joint venture will flow profits from the community ownership stake into the neighbourhood, employ people with well-paid jobs and pensions, and train residents in the trades and other associated roles. Learn more about this exciting initiative by reading The Globe and Mail’s deep dive into the project.

Get Involved

A banner invitation that reads: Black leadership and Recognition Event 2022

Opportunity: 2022 Black Leadership and Recognition Event

Join us on Friday, February 4, 2022, for our 2022 Black Leadership and Recognition Event. This year’s theme is A Resilient Generation. Our panel will engage in a critical conversation about supporting the Black community better post-COVID-19. Together we’ll celebrate our community award winners and discuss how to create a brighter and more inclusive pandemic recovery.

Two photo props that read: 'Show your Local Love' and 'I love my community'

Opportunity: Become a United Way member

Show your local love for our community by becoming a member of United Way Greater Toronto. Members are an essential part of United Way’s work: They are invited to attend our Annual General Meeting to vote on the appointment of Trustees, auditors and other special business, receive the annual audited financial statements and hear reports on our work in the community.

Interested in joining? Fill out an application by March 3, 2022.

You Might Also Like

The Local, a United Way-supported publication that explores urban health and local issues, just launched its winter issue, and it’s all about schools. They explore how Toronto kids are doing right now and the state of the education system two years into a global pandemic. We’re proud to be founding partners of this magazine and encourage you take a look at their past issues to read more deep dives into hyperlocal issues affecting communities in the GTA.

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