Even with changes brought about by COVID-19, Powell River and District United Way is working diligently to service the requirements of the region.
A big activity for the organization has been the COVID-19 community response fund. Julie Jenkins, director of community engagement and resource development, said it was enabled by a major federal funding investment that flowed through United Way. Jenkins said the United Way has invested $141,000 in the community during COVID-19 and the two other partners, Powell River Community Foundation and First Credit Union, have made contributions.
“It has been pretty incredible watching the different applications that have come in. Local organizations are getting creative and are finding ways to use that money to respond to new needs emerging during the pandemic,” said Jenkins. “It has also strengthened our relationships with the credit union, the community foundation and the regional social planner. We hope we can continue on beyond this initial process. It’s a springboard to work more collaboratively across the non-profit sector and with other funders.”
Jenkins said there are strong relationships in the community already and current circumstances are allowing people to realize how much more can be done when everyone works together.
“There’s a real desire to do that into the future, which makes it exciting to me because that’s a role United Way has played in Powell River in the past,” said Jenkins.
She said there was a push to amalgamate United Way organizations within BC over the past 18 months, and that was something the local board looked at. She said, however, that the Powell River organization decided to stay local for many reasons. She said a number of programs are being run here and the board wanted to make sure they remained under local control.
“We can guarantee to our donors and supporters that 100 per cent of the money raised here stays here in the community,” said Jenkins. “We wanted to make sure we had that local board of representation and local control to provide maximum impact for the local donors.
Jenkins said by making that decision, the board can have some certainty for the future.
“We’re at a bit of a crossroads with this decision,” she added. “I think we are one of the smallest United Ways in BC, serving a small community, but that also allows us to be agile and really responsive to our donors and the organizations we fund, to maintain our programs that are really unique to this region.”
The autonomy allows United Way to design programs and be responsive to local needs in a way that is customized to what’s needed here.
Running the organization is a labour of love, said Jenkins. In addition to her, the other employee is Chelsea Ballantyne, the ORCA (On the Road with Children’s Activities) Bus coordinator, and there are five hardworking directors on the board, she added.
“Our board members donate a lot of their time and energy to the United Way,” said Jenkins. “It’s a lot more than monthly board meetings. It shows the spirit of the United Way.”
The United Way receives its funding through several sources, including payroll deduction. Money also comes from corporate donations, and there has been some grant funding for the ORCA Bus project. Jenkins said United Way also attracts some individual donors. Some organizations, such as local banks and Service Canada, undertake annual fundraisers and make donations.
“That’s something we’re hoping to grow,” said Jenkins.
The United Way has a variety of programming in the community. Jenkins said investments are made in three areas. There are programs that support kids in the community, anti-poverty programs and programs for strengthening community.
The ORCA Bus is probably the most well-known, said Jenkins. It started more than 10 years ago to deliver preschool programming to children across the region.
“The bus is really a mobile venue and other programs have their facilitators come onto the bus,” said Jenkins. “Right now, we’re restricted to the local parks because of COVID-19.
“We have a facilitator on the bus to answer parents’ questions. It’s a bit of a touchstone for families that might not know where to go or might not be connected into local services. It’s less intimidating than going to a program in the community because it’s right in your neighbourhood.”
With COVID-19, parents are having to preregister their kids for the ORCA Bus. The bus was shut down earlier this year because of the coronavirus but service has resumed.
Activities are being carried out outside, rather than inside the new vehicle. The schedule is on the ORCA Bus website.
Other programming includes Danielle’s Helping Hand, which is a one-time emergency fund for low income people. A lot of what the fund is used for is dentures for people who cannot afford them. Also, medical equipment not covered under health care programs is a common use of the fund. It has also been used for emergency rent payments and utility bills.
“It’s kind of a unique fund that addresses gaps in the social safety net,” said Jenkins.
Half of the funding for the program comes from Powell River Health-Care Auxiliary and it’s reserved for medical and dental expenses.
Another program is seniors support. Money has been given to the Powell River seniors association, which was facilitated through a federal government grant. It provides emergency COVID-19 relief for seniors. Jenkins said the seniors association runs a program called Powell River Assist that focuses on combatting elder abuse, so it has allowed them to do outreach about elder abuse.
Money has also gone to address food security. There has been provision of grocery cards and vouchers for frozen meals to seniors in high need for food during COVID-19.
United Way also operates a hygiene cupboard, which has locations at the Community Resource Centre (CRC) and the Texada Island Foodbank. Every year United Way does a community drive for hygiene products, such as toothpaste, deodorant, soap, dental floss and women’s hygiene products. Jenkins said bags and boxes are distributed to local businesses where people can drop off items. The hygiene products are handed out at the CRC and food bank to anyone who requires them. This year, United Way will be adding personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizers to the drive.
Jenkins said the United Way is planning on being involved in strategic planning in the new year to hear from the community about what it would like to see from United Way.
“I’m excited to see what comes out of the process,” said Jenkins.
The organization has served the community since 1976. Jenkins said it’s good to take a step back and see what’s working and where the needs are. She said the COVID-19 response has allowed the organization to establish new relationships and see the potential for what more United Way can be doing, building on the strong foundation that exists.
“COVID-19 has brought challenges but it has also brought our community together and people are wanting to support however they can,” said Jenkins. “I’m excited to see that energy build. In a community like Powell River you can get everyone around the table and you can have many organizations working toward a common goal. I feel quite optimistic after the conversations that I’ve had. There’s some real potential to take care of people.”
For more information, go to unitedwayofpowellriver.ca.