Staring down unprecedented need, United Way Halton & Hamilton (UWHH) has launched its 2020-21 fundraising campaign, which aims to raise $10 million for critical social services.

As a result of COVID-19, many people are in crisis and even more are on the edge of crisis. The pandemic has only exacerbated already pressing issues, such as poverty, mental illness and isolation. Individuals, families and neighbourhoods have been pushed to their limits, and the social sector is being stretched beyond its capacity to serve the overwhelming need.

But the network of agencies across Burlington, Halton Hills, Hamilton, Milton and Oakville.

that are funded by UWHH have been there throughout the months of crisis and will lead the recovery that is to come.

“In this time of great uncertainty, there are a few things we know for sure,” said UWHH president and CEO Brad Park.

“We know that the most vulnerable among us have been the most negatively affected by COVID-19. We also know our community is facing a recovery and rebuilding that will likely be years in the making. And the final thing we know is that our community has always come together in time of crisis. We are confident this one will be no different.”

But make no mistake, there has never been a time of greater need and meeting that is more challenging than ever before.

Research shows large-scale disasters trigger social and public health issues, such as unemployment, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Demand for social services has increased 42 per cent across Canada since the beginning of the pandemic. The ranks of the vulnerable are only going to grow as the pandemic stretches on.

“Years from now, history will examine how we cared for our most vulnerable and how we demonstrated compassion, kindness, and generosity,” said Park.

“We are at a critical juncture and I believe in our community and its people and what we can achieve when we all pull together.”

Next to government, United Way is the largest investor in the critical social safety net in Halton & Hamilton​, sustaining a network of 64 agencies delivering 128 programs that serve more than 200,000 people annually.

When the federal government needed COVID-19 emergency funding distributed quickly and with the greatest impact, it turned to UWHH to convene local governments and frontline agencies to work together and deliver critical services.

Since March, UWHH has invested more than $2.6 million in rapid response emergency funding to local agencies. We continue to deliver flexible funding to our agencies to ensure they have the resources to meet the rising need.

But as need soars, the ability of UWHH to raise funds is hampered. Workplace campaigns, which account for almost 75 per cent of our revenue, are affected by job losses, reduced hours, and economic uncertainty. Donations have declined and gifts are being deferred.

Added to that, most of the key fundraising events can’t happen right now.

“This is a momentous opportunity to come together to rebuild and move forward,” said campaign chair John Chisholm. “The reason for hope of a better future is our donors. If you are an existing supporter of the United Way, thank you and we hope you will consider giving more this year. And if you have never given to the United Way, there has never been a time when your community has needed you more.”

While we cannot gather for traditional campaign kick-off events, UWHH is still launching its $10 million campaign in style.

UWHH’s Challenge for Change is a team scavenger hunt that includes searches for hidden gems, challenges at stops, and the chance to earn prizes.

Teams will visit 12 stops in either Halton or Hamilton, providing pictures as proof of their journey. The goal is to raise $30,000 with the scavenger hunt.