United Way’s COVID Response: The Local Funds

In March of 2020 when we were first sent home, the horizon of our lives shrank to the bounds of our backyards. At the same time, responding to the impacts of the pandemic had to start in the same place. 

According to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, in those early weeks and months, nearly half of New Englanders lost income. At United Way, we knew people wanted to help and that the pandemic’s impact would be widespreadOur communities were looking for a catalyst to come togethercoordinate resources, and organize themselves to reach their hardest-hit neighborsIn response, United Way localized too.   

“We had all the pieces in Haverhill to help people. But we didn’t necessarily have the facilitator. United Way stepped up to be the facilitator we needed to make sure that all of our social service organizations, community and volunteer groups, and our city and state and private sector leadership are all working together because that’s the only way we’re going to get through this pandemic.”  – Representative Andres X. Vargas – 3rd Essex 

We established partnerships with local leaderssuch as mayors, city managers, city councilors, state representatives, nonprofit executive directors, a union, a chamber of commerce, a library, and more. Together, we launched 14 localized versions of our COVID-19 Family Support Fund with similar goals of mobilizing neighbors to help neighbors — and doing so in a way that kept community organizers in the drivers’ seat 

While each community is unique, United Way’s COVID-19 Family Support Fund has, to date, collectively distributed nearly $10.5 million in direct financial relief to more than 400,000 households. This post highlights the efforts of four Cities. You can view all of United Way’s localized relief funds here.

One Chelsea Fund  

4,600 households and counting
Community Partners: La Colaborativa, GreenRoots, The Neighborhood Developers, Community Action Programs Inter-City (CAPIC), and the City of Chelsea 

In early April of 2020, United Way launched the One Chelsea Fund in partnership with City Manager Tom Ambrosino, La ColaborativaGreenRoots and The Neighborhood Developers and the goal to provide $250 payments to Chelsea households impacted by loss of income so they could meet their basic needs quickly. In four months, $1M was raised and distributed to 4,600 families in a city of 50,000 people. An all-hands-on-deck effort, the fund had the support of local musicians, elected officials, and businesses as well as national and international foundations. By the fall of 2020, the One Chelsea Fund pivoted. Since then the One Chelsea Fund has raised an additional $1M, refocusing on eviction-prevention and anti-displacement efforts, deploying both staff capacity and emergency funds to help Chelsea families navigate the end of the eviction moratorium. 

Early in the pandemic, Chelsea emerged as a virus hotspot as residents experienced greater public health challenges due to the community’s density, its history of environmental contamination, and the number of residents working in frontline industries. The economic, social, and health impacts of the pandemic magnified the existing challenges of unaffordable housing, food insecurity, and lack of health insurance coverage that so many residents already experienced. That said, what truly set the City of Chelsea apart during the pandemic was its resilience. The City, its nonprofits, and community leaders forged new partnerships and launched new efforts aimed at helping residents avoid hunger, eviction, and community displacement. Besides the One Chelsea Fund, United Way also partnered with the City and the Shah Family Foundation to launch Chelsea Eats – the largest guaranteed income pilot in the country and first in Massachusetts. This program is providing monthly debit cards to 2,000 Chelsea families to address the staggering rate of food insecurity. 

“I think the reason why immigrant communities and communities of color have had such a big impact by Covid is because of the way people work and go to work in those communities.  Chelsea is a perfect example. We have crowded housing conditions. Lots of essential workers working low-income jobs so they go to work in places like grocery stores, food manufacturing facilities, as orderlies in hospitals. They work in crowded conditions and they go to work in crowded conditions. They don’t go to work in their comfortable sedan, they go to work on crowded public transportation. And because of that…crowded living conditions, crowded work,  crowded going to work… the virus has an opportunity to spread.”  –  Tom Ambrosino City Manager City of Chelsea 

Resilient Randolph Fund 

420 households and counting 
Community Partners: Randolph Public Library, South Shore Stars, NeighborWorks Housing Solutions 

Alongside Town Manager Brian Howard, South Shore Stars, and NeighborWorks Housing Solutions, United Way launched the Resilient Randolph Fund in mid-May of 2020 when Randolph emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot. Not unlike many towns of less than 35,000 people, the Public Library quickly emerged at the center of the community and has received more than 500 applications for assistance. The Library became the intake and referral partner, supporting residents in submitting applications for assistance and working with the nonprofit service providers to ensure funding was distributed quickly. The Library also ran the community’s testing and vaccine efforts and became United Way’s point to distribute 600 Thanksgiving meals.

“Randolph is a community that has confronted some of the highest rates of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, with few of the social services programs that other cities and towns have to support its most vulnerable residents. Since then, Resilient Randolph has reached hundreds of Randolph families and has been successful because of the partners’ ongoing collaboration and sharing of expertise and resources.  I can’t stress enough that there would not have been a Resilient Randolph Fund without United Way’s vision, ongoing guidance and of course initial funding, which then leveraged significant public and private support.”  – Sherri Adlin, retired Executive Director, South Shore Stars 

Somerville Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund 

1,500 households and counting
Community Partners: Community Action Agency of Somerville, City of Somerville 

In mid-April of 2020, Mayor Joseph Curtatone and United Way first announced the Somerville Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund to support impacted residents, including members of the city’s diverse immigrant communities and essential workers. Within a short time, the fund received more than 1,500 applications. 43% of applicants reported having lost their entire income in mid-March. Since then, the fund has mobilized $1M to support these households, including house cleaners, babysitters, contractors, waiters, cooks, and drivers who were unable to work or worked throughout the pandemic with reduced hours.  

“I want to thank you for sending me a $1000 check during this difficult time. That was so generous of you — this money helping so much with my kids. I’m going to buy them some winter clothes and food and also help me pay for my car. I really want to thank you again for giving. It means a lot to me and my kids appreciated everything because I explained to them where it came from and I will never forget that!”  – Community member 

Lynn Community Care Fund 

1,300 households and counting 
Community Partners: Catholic Charities North, Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, LEO, Lynn Housing Authority & Neighborhood Development (LHAND), New American Association of Massachusetts, Northeast Legal Aid, Lynn Mutual Aid 

On April 1 of 2020, Mayor Thomas McGee and United Way launched the Lynn Community Care Fund in partnership with a coalition of community and nonprofit leaders. Meeting weekly throughout the spring and summer, the Lynn Community Care Fund has provided support to 1,300 households in a city of 100,000 people. The vast majority received flexible assistance for purchasing food, in the form of grocery store gift cards. Others received assistance in paying for rent or utilities as well 

Through this coalition, United Way fostered collaboration between nonprofits, responding to emerging needs, coordinating private and public funding, and distributing accurate information to help residents navigate resources and avoid eviction and displacement. Through this collaboration, partners identified and targeted funding to households as they tested positive for COVID-19, but had no way to quarantine safely, because they could not afford their housing. They identified families of school children who lacked devices or internet to engage in virtual education. The team continued to meet well into 2021 to highlight gaps in eviction-prevention resources and share information about testing, vaccines, food, and school resources. 

“The way the United Way helped me was money to help pay the rent for the month, and also gave me a little more to cover the second month of rent. That made me feel very calm since I was stressed a lot about how I was going to pay.  It made my family and I very happy that there was actually a program out there that can help a family in our situation.  When the pandemic came this assisted us in paying the rent so we don’t have to worry about being late or potentially being sent to court for not paying rent on time.”  – Leandro Diaz, Lynn resident 

Stay tuned for the next piece on your Covid-19 impact coming soon!