Better Together is a collaboration between Coast Capital and the Georgia Straight to celebrate programs, partnerships, and individuals making positive change in our communities.
(This story is sponsored by Coast Capital Savings.)
As Canadians look ahead to the holidays, many will reflect on what have been two difficult years grappling with the pandemic. However, these new challenges have simultaneously inspired Canadians across the country to come together in the spirit of giving, sharing, and support that epitomizes the power of philanthropy and shows us that human kindness is alive and well. This has been especially apparent across Canada’s social-good sector.
With more Canadians needing the services provided by charities and nonprofits, the crucial role of this sector became more apparent than ever. And organizations rose to the challenge.
In fact, the philanthropic response to the pandemic has shown the sector at its best. Through innovation and perseverance, Canadian nonprofits provided a network of support and continued to deliver critical services for those in need in the face of dwindling resources and rising demand.
Last year, research on the pandemic’s impact on charities and nonprofits showed a sharp increase in requests for charitable services amidst falling donations and revenue. 68 percent of charities saw a decline in donations with 46 percent of providers reporting an increase in demand, leaving them more stretched than ever.
Organizations like United Way British Columbia—working with communities in B.C.’s Interior, Lower Mainland, Central and Northern Vancouver Island—alongside the nonprofits they support, are helping B.C. communities address social issues made worse by the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19. United Way has continued to work to make positive and lasting change, transforming local lives by empowering residents to improve their neighbourhoods. Michael McKnight, president and CEO of United Way British Columbia, says the organization saw firsthand how communities were negatively affected by the pandemic and quickly adapted to support them, despite declining revenue.
As unprecedented unemployment put financial and emotional stress on British Columbians, many were forced to turn to services like food banks to feed their families. In response, United Way launched Regional Community Food Hubs across the province, providing groceries, food hampers, prepared meals, and supermarket vouchers to residents facing food insecurity. Seniors experience isolation at the best of times but social distancing measures further exacerbated this issue, so United Way launched a postcard campaign, “Hi Neighbour”, across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, giving isolated individuals a much-needed lifeline through support with groceries, prescription pick-ups, and posting mail.
Similarly, many young people were cut off from traditional support networks, like school and recreation, significantly impacting mental health among children and youth. COVID-19 also disproportionately affected former youth in care, who are facing precarious employment and housing due to the pandemic.
Together with Coast Capital, B.C.’s first federal credit union, United Way initiatives like the Youth Futures Education Fund have continued to provide critical aid, offering low-barrier support towards living expenses for young adults previously in government care and now pursuing postsecondary education on a tuition waiver program. This past year, the fund added $50,000 in emergency funding to help youth with expenses related to COVID-19, keeping them in school.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on our local communities and organizations like United Way British Columbia have truly been a difference maker in the lives of people across the country,” says Maureen Young, chair of the Youth Futures Education Fund and director of Coast Capital’s Social Purpose Office.
Although it posed considerable challenges, the effects of COVID-19 on philanthropy weren’t all bad. “At the height of the pandemic, we saw thousands of people mobilize to help their neighbours and communities make a real difference,” says McKnight. “It helped re-establish a sense of citizenship that has been lost for many of us over the last several years.”
United Way’s “Hi Neighbour” campaign received an overwhelming response, with individuals and communities coming together to care for each other. McKnight and Young both hope that this sense of community lasts well beyond the pandemic.
Philanthropy and giving back are common topics of conversation around the holidays and research shows that nearly one-third of annual giving occurs in December. From toy drives to holiday food banks, there are many causes to support this time of year. However, the needs of our communities extend beyond the holidays. McKnight encourages British Columbians to think about how they can make a meaningful difference in the lives of their neighbours by contributing not only money, but their time.
Making a monetary donation is incredibly valuable but as McKnight says, “when people give their time, energy, and passion to these causes, amazing things can happen.” As individuals mobilize and take a more active role in their communities, they’re building vital connections and a social fabric that can help everyone deal with adverse situations. As McKnight says, “acts of local love are more important than ever.”
If you’re interested in giving back to your community this holiday season and beyond, tools such as ivolunteer.ca can help you to get started by finding nonprofits that meet your needs in terms of time commitment and interests. Get involved today.