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Letter of reflection on COVID-19: One year later

Image provided by United Way.

The following is a submitted letter to the editor. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Kingstonist.

Last week, on March 11, it was the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all organizations, a lot changed for United Way Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington during that initial week in 2020 – we made the difficult decision to cancel meetings and events, close our office to the public and have employees work remotely. Nobody really knew what to expect – except we knew this was going to be an extraordinary challenge for frontline agencies.

As people scrambled to buy necessities and put in safety protocols, agencies started adapting their programs. The United Way KFL&A COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund was set up almost immediately. The needs in the community were already great, but with the heightened uncertainty they increased rapidly.

Food security emerged as one of the most pressing issues early in the pandemic and continues today. People accessing meal and food programs increased from 100 a day to over 1500 on any given day, seven days a week. Members of the community who were homeless or living in shelters needed support – shelters moved to locations or adapted to allow their clients to remain safe in congregate settings. Mental health became an increasing concern and many agencies needed help to adapt to offer virtual counselling, at reduced or no fees to help as many individuals as possible. And the wellbeing and isolation of seniors became a concern, along with their ability to access healthy food. Programs were introduced or adapted to meet all these issues promptly and effectively.

All of these concerns, and many more, became the day to day for agencies in KFL&A in 2020 and now into 2021. As Canadians observed a National Day in support of the lives lost to COVID-19 and in support of all those affected by the pandemic last week, we take the opportunity to thank our amazing frontline agencies – frontline support workers, local agencies, staff, volunteers – all doing their part.

Our community showed how quickly it can come together. It was wonderful to see the collaboration across all sectors – agencies sharing resources, working collaboratively, residents wanting to volunteer or donate. They showed how resilient our community is and I am proud to live in this supportive, caring and compassionate community.

Locally, through the pandemic in 2020, United Way invested $5.5 million that has helped 76,000 people in KFL&A through 70 unique organizations and over 220 programs. (A list of grants can be found on our website).

United Ways were created to address local issues. United Way understands and responds to local needs, addressing root causes, supporting prevention programs and funding agencies that meet immediate needs. In 2020 we focused on just that. Funding stayed local and directly impacted local lives within KFL&A.

This funding was critical and now, with vaccines on the horizon, there is hope. But, the after-effects of the pandemic will be felt for many years, especially in the social services sector and among non-profits. The pandemic has put the needs of many in our community into sharp focus.

United Way KFL&A has established a Social Services Recovery Task Force and plans are well underway to create a Food Hub to help meal programs continue their collaboration. These programs and more will be necessary to continue supporting the most vulnerable in our community.

Thank you to everyone who has supported and continues to support United Way KFL&A in these challenging times. Frontline agencies are hard at work to continue to serve residents, but they can’t do this alone. They rely on the support of the community and donors to continue to show their #locallove in support. To learn more about the impact your donation has made and to learn how you can help continued efforts in these challenging times visit www.unitedwaykfla.ca

Bhavana Varma
President & CEO,
United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington

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