When Crisis Demands Immediate Action

By: Abby Cunningham

When local public health officials ordered the Shelter In Place of six Bay Area counties — a necessary step to stop the catastrophic spread of this deadly disease — tens of thousands of local residents lost their jobs. No one knew how big the economic shockwave would be or how long it would last. But one thing was certain: visits to food banks would soar and requests for emergency rental assistance would surmount anything ever before seen in the last century.

“Usually when there’s a disaster, we open up a fund and collect money for a period of time until we have a critical mass of funding to make grants,” explained Laura Escobar, Director, Safety Net Programs for United Way Bay Area.

This time was different. Without immediate funding, local nonprofits that provide emergency food and shelter could never have scaled up in time. Nor could they have re-tooled their entire distribution infrastructure to safely deliver services in the midst of the pandemic.

Fortunately, United Way Bay Area has both the logistical expertise and local connections to meet the moment in a time of crisis. An anonymous donor came forward with a large, generous contribution to immediately help those in need. This early funding provided a crucial lifeline to local residents, as well as a bridge to later rounds of funding that would come from the federal government.

Usually grant-making, the process by which organizations like United Way Bay Area give money to qualified nonprofits, can take some time because of the screening criteria required of various funding sources. Money coming in through the federal government, such as the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, is vetted by committee through a public/private partnership established in the 1980s.

The COVID-19 pandemic demanded immediate action. Tens of thousands of people had suddenly lost their jobs and would soon turn to local service agencies for help. Being on the front lines within days, not weeks or months, was crucial to providing a measure of hope and sanity to families, seniors and individuals region-wide.

Because of our long-standing relationships with local service agencies, including the Emergency Assistance Network of Silicon Valley, United Way Bay Area met the moment in record time, helping local nonprofits rapidly scale and meet the unprecedented needs of our local communities.

For over 30 years, United Way Bay Area has been a partner and thought leader in providing basic needs like food, rental assistance and emergency funding to struggling people throughout our region. Our deep connections to local nonprofits as well as our technical expertise with these kinds of operations were pivotal in helping the Bay Area in its most urgent time of need.

Please join us today and contribute to the United Way Bay Area COVID-19 Community Relief Fund to continue support for individuals and families in this time of need.

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