By: Kevin Zwick
It is understandable looking back over the past year at all the things missed out, postponed, or lost during the year. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to look back at all the ways that each of us has persevered, readjusted, and endured in the face of the pandemic. As a health crisis, the pandemic has disproportionately affected our Black, Latinx, and immigrant neighbors. The pandemic has cut short the time we had with so many of our elders, family members, and friends – an economic crisis whose burden has fallen hardest on our essential workers and our small businesspeople. These folks represent the very people who cannot work from home or replicate their income on a computer. An environmental pandemic brought about waves of wildfires that trapped people in their homes and forced us to think harder about how and where we live. And a pandemic of institutional racism that withheld fair treatment from Black men and women at the hands of our justice and policing systems.
But persevere we did in the face of unimaginable challenges our communities showed their humanity, their courage, and their concern for one another. From our health care workers to our front-line charitable organizations, to our public officials, to our essential workers in our stores, restaurants, and delivery trucks, and so many others.
Over the past year, our team and partners at United Way Bay Area also stepped up with concern, persistence, and compassion and helped tens of thousands of Bay Area residents when it was needed most. Our initiatives, such as our SparkPoint centers, provided critical rent relief to residents along with financial coaching. Our Earn It, Keep It, Save It (EKS) program, helped thousands of families navigate a complicated and ever-changing tax season. Through EKS, clients filed their taxes for free, enabling them to receive hard-earned benefits and tax credits to provide a financial cushion for their families. Our Census 2020 program made sure every resident in every hard to count census tract and neighborhood, was not overlooked by our federal government. And our Covid-19 Community Relief Fund and Greater Bay Area Central Coast Wildfire Relief Fund allowed generous donors like you to assist our neighbors with critical assistance in the most difficult situations.
At the end of 2020, a slight but significant sliver of hope shined on our work and community. On December 15th, author, and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced that UWBA was one of the 384 nonprofits across the country, including 45 other local United Ways, to receive a transformational gift. In her own words, Ms. Scott said, “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, people of color, and people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.” This gift will allow UWBA to significantly increase our support to families suffering from our multiple pandemics, and allow us, in partnership with others, help our region recover and rebuild more equitably and fairly. I’m so proud to lead a team of incredibly dedicated staff and board at UWBA who have sustained an organization through an incredibly challenging year and are looking forward to using this gift to maximize impact over the years to come.
This gift, plus the support of you, your companies, and your partner organizations has helped lift United Way Bay Area as we move into 2021 – a year of rededication, rebuilding, and recovering. With the help of stakeholders from across the region, UWBA will release a housing program and policy platform in early 2021 and a new strategic plan in the summer identifying where UWBA can bring our assets to help address the housing crisis – a root cause of why millions of people in the Bay Area are living in poverty. We know that the way to fix it will require multiple perspectives and strategies – as a region, we will need to build and provide hundreds of thousands of new, affordable places for people to live. We will also need to provide tools to make living here more affordable for everyone as well. Tools like our SparkPoint centers, Earn It, Keep It Save It, provide robust safety nets allowing for shelter and food for all who need it, opportunities to learn a new skill or trade, earn enough for parents to provide for their families, and individuals to meet their own needs.
At United Way Bay Area, we will continue to push for strong advocacy and public policies that make California and the Bay Area a place where everyone can have an opportunity, a healthy future, and a place to call home.