United Way’s 2021 Highlights

As we look back at 2021, we’re grateful to everyone who has supported us in our efforts to help rebuild more equitable and more resilient communities.   

We began this year with a resolution to empower our communities to emerge stronger and more prepared for the future.   Working together, we’ve helped to address immediate needs and fuel change that will have a lasting impact.  In this post, we’re highlighting a few of the ways that our partners, donors, volunteers and advocates came together this year to help our region recover and thrive. 

Ensuring safe, affordable and permanent housing  

We spent a lot of time in our own homes in 2021 as they continued to serve as home offices and remote learning spaces for many of us.   The pandemic has shown, like no other crisis before, that individuals and families need safe, affordable housing to thrive.  Our communities stepped forward this year to support the children, families and individuals who have endured the Covid-19 pandemic without stable housing, those who are experiencing homelessness or are on the edge of losing their homes. 

Together, we took action to ensure vulnerable households had safe, affordable and permanent housing. Working with our donors and our corporate, government and community partners, we: 

  • Provided rental and utility assistance to over 5,600 households and direct financial assistance to nearly 11,000 households.
  • Partnered with the Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) and The Boston Foundation to fund 20 local organizations in communities most impacted by the pandemic to help more than 9,000 people overcome language and digital barriers to apply for financial assistance and avoid foreclosures, evictions and homelessness.
  • Awarded nearly $5M to providers of permanent, supportive housing in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development to reimburse them for costs they incurred during the height of the crisis when shelters needed to depopulate to accommodate distancing and public health guidelines
  • Celebrated the outcomes of our six-year Massachusetts Alliance for Supportive Housing (MASH) Pay for Success partnership, providing permanent housing to 1,055 individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.
  • Advocated for an increased state investment of $150M in permanent supportive housing, including $15M for MASH to continue our work to with individuals, families, youth and young adults experiencing chronic homelessness.     

 Expanding access to childcare and supporting students  

In a state with exceedingly high levels of income inequality, working families struggle to access affordable, reliable childcare. Childcare businesses faced considerable hurdles during the pandemic, navigating rapidly changing health regulations, unpredictable enrollment, and financial instability.  In fact, across Massachusetts, 747 childcare businesses closed their doors during the crisis and have not reopened. Families reported consistently that the loss of childcare and the pressure to support remote learning during the pandemic was incredibly challenging. Thousands of young children began the 2021 school year after over a year of remote learning. 

Together, we took action to ensure vulnerable children, families and youth had access to childcare and out-of-school time supports to meet the needs exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis: 

  • Launched a new Summer Step Up program in 30 communities in partnership with the Baker-Polito Administration and the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, providing academic and social-emotional supports to over 2,000 young children from across the state who entered school for the first time or who had little in-person learning experience in the 2020-2021 school year.
  • Funded 27 afterschool programs to support the distribution of meals to families learning from home and helped establish alternative learning arrangements for virtual students.
  • Provided vital business training and supports to family childcare providers facing economic instability through our Shared Services programTo date, with support from The Boston Foundation, Eastern Bank and PNC Bank, Shared Services has delivered business training and support to over 300 family childcare businesses in Boston, Lowell and Everett.
  • Ensured young children had access to developmental screening, which typically takes place in child care centers, pediatrician’s offices or community based organizations but was limited during the pandemic. United Way’s DRIVE initiative screened over 3,000 children to help identify learning delays or social-emotional concerns prior to young children entering school.

Continuing our Covid-19 relief and recovery work meeting essential needs

The pandemic continues to put pressures on families whose income places them one financial crisis away from requiring emergency assistance to meet their essential needs.   We continued to strengthen and reimagine the safety net to support our most vulnerable households who continue to be disproportionately impacted by the crisis.  Together, we:

  • Fielded nearly 500,000 calls for assistance through United Way’s 2-1-1 call center, the state’s designated hotline to connect residents to rental assistance and other housing supports. United Ways across the state joined forces to successfully advocate for $1M in funding from the Commonwealth through the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) package passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Baker in December.
  • Distributed $454,300 in grocery store gift cards to 2,103 families facing long-term unemployment in partnership with Best Hospitality Training Center and UNITE HERE Local 26 through our Hospitality Workers Emergency Fund.  At the height of the crisis, 90% of hotel workers were unemployed.
  • Partnered with local Labor leaders to hold 33 food drives in cities across our region, donating 172,000 pounds of food in total.
  • Recognized that the crisis further isolated vulnerable families and that one in three families does not have enough clean diapers for their baby, United Way hosted a virtual Community Baby Shower, distributing diapers, wipes and gift cards to 1,000 expectant families struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic.
  • Responded to a doubling of food insecurity in Massachusetts by providing 18,000 families with the full ingredients needed for a Thanksgiving celebration through our 22nd annual Thanksgiving Project.
  • Joined with the Shah Foundation, City of Chelsea and Massachusetts General Hospital to pioneer Chelsea Eats, first-of-its-kind guaranteed income pilot program providing monthly debit cards to 2,000 Chelsea households experiencing food insecurity.


As we near the end of 2021, we are committed to continuing our work partnering with communities for an equitable and inclusive recovery.  We’re thankful to everyone who has joined us in our efforts this year, and we wish all of you a happy and healthy 2022!