COVID-19 Local Funds: Meet the Cities Mobilizing to Support their Neighbors

Over the last two months, all of us have learned in new and deeper ways that we depend on each other for a healthy community. As we at United Way think about recovery, one hopeful sign we see is people continuing to stand in solidarity with their neighbors on the front lines of the pandemic.

In early March, United Way established the COVID-19 Family Support Fund to raise and distribute funds across our region as quickly and flexibly as possible.  Starting in mid-March, we began working in direct partnership with cities and towns, including some of the hardest-hit municipalities in Massachusetts: Chelsea, Brockton, Lawrence, Everett, Lynn; to create and deploy very targeted funds within those communities. We commend the mayors, state representatives, and their staff who, while busy responding to the public health emergency, reached out to United Way to help them reach the most vulnerable people with the basics — food, supplies, help paying the rent.

In this post, we introduce you to a few of the vibrant, resilient cities where we are mobilizing relief and recovery efforts. These cities are home to our region’s heroes, helping us all get through the pandemic — people who work for our grocery stores and hospitals. They are also home to people furloughed from jobs we will soon rely on again — those in security, child care, hospitality, and food service. These are the people most deeply impacted by the shutdown, and the ones that will lead our region’s recovery.

As the public health restrictions loosen, we need to build a culturally competent, equitable, and inclusive recovery plan — one that is centered on uplifting those on the front lines of this crisis.

from relief to renewal


Each of the cities we work with has a different set of challenges and opportunities, requiring individualized approaches to suit their unique populations.  The One Chelsea and One Lawrence Funds, for example, are focusing on getting emergency assistance to people who have lost wages but are unlikely to get access to unemployment and other types of assistance.

The Resilient Randolph Fund, Somerville Cares Fund, Everett Community Care Fund, One Haverhill Fund, and Lynn Community Care Fund are focused on expanding access to groceries, supplies, and rental assistance, especially for people who have been financially impacted by the public health emergency. They include organizations taking referrals from their Community Health Centers, organizations who have the trust of our immigrant communities, and organizations with an eye on food security and people who need help to quarantine safely.

Why Local Relief Funds?

United Way has so far created relief funds in partnership with eight cities: Brockton, Chelsea, Everett, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lynn, Newton, and Somerville as well as four towns: Dedham, Marshfield, Randolph, and Winchester. Each fund launched thanks to the vision and leadership of Mayors, Town Managers, State Representatives, City Council, and Select Board Members. As they lead their constituents through this difficult time, these leaders turned to the United Way to help coordinate and mobilize local resources toward meeting the needs of those in their community who find themselves most economically vulnerable.

“Throughout this crisis, Haverhill residents and organizations have stepped up to the plate in an inspiring way. Whether it’s delivering food, providing shelter, or chipping-in to help a student have access to reliable internet service – our community has pulled together as one. Haverhill is 36 square miles, over a dozen neighborhoods, and varied lived experiences that make the whole of One Haverhill. The One Haverhill Fund will be a vehicle to ensure that no Haverhill resident or family gets left behind.”
— Representative Andres X Vargas, Haverhill

These funds present an opportunity to stand in solidarity with front-line workers and households who are ineligible to receive other types of assistance such as a stimulus check. Furthermore, these funds will go a long way to help workers who have been furloughed or seen reductions in hours. In March just before the pandemic hit, only 65.9% percent of unemployed residents in Massachusetts were receiving benefit payments, according to an analysis from the Pew Research Center. As the nation is grappling with unprecedented layoffs, this challenge has only grown and thousands of residents are falling through the gap.

“Once again faced with an emergency, Lawrence has proven our strength as a community. This crisis impacts everyone in some way – but not all of us equally.  Many people are facing incredible challenges meeting basic needs. Many of our most vulnerable community members have lost the ability to work. Not everyone who works is able to access unemployment, a stimulus check, or other forms of assistance.  These are needs I hear about in my office every day, and they are needs I want us to respond to as One Lawrence.”
— Daniel Rivera, Mayor of Lawrence, MA

These local relief funds are so much more than simply a means to collect and distribute resources. Through them, the United Way is fostering collaboration across nonprofits and city government to maximize the reach of relief efforts and empower cities to reach populations that have been historically underserved.

“It is remarkable how quickly you mobilized and continue to mobilize funding and supplies to communities like Haverhill.  The One Haverhill Fund is another vehicle for bringing community members together and critical funding to our clients.  It is shining a light on the great work of organizations, front line workers, politicians and businesses in Haverhill.  The Fund is making people feel cared for and has brought together a leadership team that will continue to work to address the ever-changing and developing concerns, issues, and needs of our community.”
—  Community Action, Inc.

With regular citywide discussions, we are streamlining distribution channels to get help to people who need it and working to leverage other resources, to stretch relief dollars as far as possible.

How You Can Help

The cities in our footprint are strong and resilient. The residents, families, and nonprofits in these communities play a pivotal role in driving our region’s economy and contributing to the vibrancy of our city centers and main streets. Their local leaders and community members have stepped up to serve their neighbors in need during this crisis. Will you join them?

If you live in one of these cities, we ask you to consider giving to your local relief fund. If you live in a neighboring community, we invite you to stand in solidarity with front-line workers and people impacted deeply by this crisis — by giving to a relief fund near you. The long-standing impacts of this pandemic will be felt for months and years to come. By investing in our neighbors today, we can help ensure that our communities will rebuild stronger than ever.

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