Six accomplishments our community can celebrate in 2020

2020 has been a year like no other. However, our community came together for the good of all, even when faced with incredibly difficult circumstances – circumstances we’ve faced for centuries, and circumstances new to us all.

Here are six incredible achievements our community made together in 2020 that we can all be proud of.

1. We gained new insights about our community’s needs

Local people, community experts, area nonprofits and United Way came together to better understand our region. In January, we released a Community Needs Assessment that combined the community’s voice and qualitative and quantitative data to identify and prioritize needs across United Way’s 16-county footprint in Missouri and Illinois.

The assessment revealed our community’s needs county by county to understand how people experience challenges differently depending on where they live, along with their age, race and ethnicity and other factors. The information is a vital tool available to the entire community to understand how we can use our resources and focus to support needs for the biggest possible impact.

2. Local nonprofits found creative solutions during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis brought many challenges to local nonprofits. By August, 75% of United Way’s surveyed partner agencies reported an increased demand for help and 79% experienced lost revenue and cancelled fundraising opportunities.

Our community moved quickly to find creative solutions so nonprofits could continue their important work and help people – from drive-up supply distributions and emergency childcare centers to training in jobs experiencing growth because of the pandemic. With United Way emergency response grants, local nonprofits distributed more than 1.3 million meals to people in need, provided 5,430 nights of emergency shelter, helped nearly 12,000 people experiencing income interruption with rent, mortgage or utility assistance and supported more than 14,200 seniors and individuals with disabilities.

This also included new programs and partnerships to help nonprofits adapt to meet our community’s needs, such as United Way’s United to Help our Neighbors program. Launched in May, the program brings together United Way’s network of partners to assist people facing income loss due to the COVID-19 crisis in regaining stability. By working through United Way’s network, case managers coordinate different types of assistance (from local agencies, 2-1-1 resources, government assistance programs and more) to tailor wrap-around services and provide direct financial assistance for the greatest possible impact for each person they help.

3. New groups came together to respond

With an unprecedented crisis like COVID-19, an effective, coordinated response is vital to help us all on the road to recovery.

New groups formed to help local people and the community sustain and recover. Bringing together representatives from government agencies, nonprofits like United Way, law enforcement, and business and civic leaders, these groups direct an effective, collaborative response to this crisis. This includes the COVID Regional Response Team, which operates across the City of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles, Madison and St. Clair counties, and the newly formed East St. Louis Area COAD, which focuses on vulnerable populations in the Metro East.

4. Local people continued to give back in new ways

Even with social distancing measures, our community found ways to safely keep helping those who need it most. United Way’s Volunteer Center connected local people to new opportunities to volunteer virtually by creating appreciation kits for first responders, making calls to people experiencing isolation and more. Since March, the Volunteer Center has connected more than 500 volunteers to over 60 virtual and COVID-related volunteer opportunities, adding up to more than 2,000 hours of service to the community.

Companies and other organizations also came together for larger service projects. For example, the “Snacks to Go – to Fight COVID19” initiative organized by Metro-East Labor leaders assisted by United Way raised more than $17,000 and provided snacks to local healthcare workers, who are often too busy to take breaks for meals during their shifts.

5. Young professionals banded together for a brighter future

This fall, more than 830 young professionals came together toward a shared vision for a stronger community for all through United Way. United Way’s new United Young Leaders group is made up of individuals 35 years old and younger to work on the most pressing issues in our community through giving, volunteerism and professional development.

Together, the group has already made a big impact on the community. In their inaugural event, they collected more than 930 pounds of food in partnership with the St. Louis Area Foodbank, adding up to more than 760 meals to be distributed to local individuals and families in need!

6. We came together to support our region

We in the St. Louis region are known for our generosity, and 2020 was no different.

This year, employees, labor unions and corporate leaders from more than 1,300 companies and organizations from across the St. Louis region came together through United Way to create a stronger and healthier St. Louis community.

Nearly everything about this year’s campaign looked different because of COVID-19. Companies pivoted to virtual campaigns, finding new and innovative ways to bring coworkers together. From virtual 5K runs and scavenger hunts, to car parades and supply drives held at a safe distance, there were so many creative ways that brought thousands of local people together for the good of the community.

Even with all the challenges and change this year, one thing remained the same: Our community united together to support and lift one another up, paving the path to a bright future.

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James Taylor
James Taylor