By Bruce Corcoran
Keep on giving.
That’s the request from representatives of local foundations, municipal government, several businesses, and philanthropists recently.
The United Way held an online meeting recently with members of its co-investors table and other community representatives, and the message of continued giving was at the forefront.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that came with it have made for a challenging time here in Chatham-Kent, and it is not over yet. The municipality has come together in many ways, including the May 16th Miracle and more recently The Gift, as well as through regular support methods.
But the need remains.
Members of the co-investors table first met in early April as a way to co-ordinate both funding efforts and resources to meet the emergency needs brought on by the pandemic announced mid-March. Since then, $1.9 million has been invested into the Chatham-Kent community to address challenges such as food insecurity, homelessness, mental health and addictions, and other social issues that have intensified due to isolation. As a result, more than 80 human and social services organizations serving our community’s most vulnerable have been buoyed up.
Steve Pratt, executive director of the United Way of Chatham-Kent, said there is cause for a pat on the back for the people of Chatham-Kent, but it comes with a reminder to please keep on helping whenever possible.
“We’ve done incredibly well. There’s much to celebrate on how we are taking care of our community,” he said, commending the residents of C-K. “But the data says we’re going to see a four-to-six time increase in the need for food support over the next six months,” he said.
Polly Smith, the director of employment and social services with the municipality, said the pandemic has “changed the playing field” when it comes to people at or below the poverty line in Chatham-Kent.
“It has definitely increased visible homelessness. We knew we needed to take care of people in danger of losing their housing,” she said.
Smith added there is increased demand for food at area food banks as well.
“Thanks to the co-investors table, we were able to get a lot of the relief funding out to organizations and serve different populations,” she said.
The stress of the pandemic is not just on our support systems, Pratt said, as people are suffering.
“We’ve seen a 52-per-cent increase in calls for domestic violence,” he said. “It is estimated that 11 million Canadians are experiencing higher levels of stress and two million Canadians are experiencing traumatic stress.”
As well, front-line workers in health care and social services are starting to burn out. Pratt said numbers indicate almost a quarter of those workers said they are burned out, while two thirds report they are showing signs of burnout.
Robb Nelson, a local financial entrepreneur and member of the co-investor table, said COVID has had its impact on some elements of the private sector, while others have profited. He called on everyone who can to step up and help others.
“Even though we might be in a challenging spot, now is the time to give a little more. We need to reach backwards and thank everyone for what has happened rather than what is happening now,” he said. “The business sector has come up extremely generous in supporting Chatham-Kent, and a lot are 30-40 per cent down in revenue and are still being extremely generous.”
Wes Thompson, who also sits on the co-investor table, agreed with Nelson’s assessment that some folks are thriving at the moment.
“There is a broadening difference between the haves and have nots. One of my challenges in recent months is to explain to people who are having a pretty good year to think about the people who aren’t,” he said. “We need to look at members of the community who too often, through no fault of their own, are having a miserable time. I know Chatham-Kent will come together.”
Karyn O’Neill of the United Way encourages people to help in any way they can.
“Volunteer to help at a local food bank, offer skills to a non-profit, pick up groceries for a senior, or donate to a charitable cause,” she suggested. “In this way, you can ensure organizations have what they need to ensure no one gets left behind.”
For anyone unsure of how to reach out to volunteer organizations or non-profits, O’Neill encouraged people to reach out to the United Way for guidance. Information can be found at the website uwock.ca.
Thompson said added volunteer support at non-profits would be hugely appreciated.
“Some people have been volunteering for months now, and they’re getting worn out. They keep doing it because no one is replacing them,” he said. “Some of these folks are getting a little tattered. I’m sure they would take a day off if someone was there to pick up the pieces for a couple of days.”
For people seeking to volunteer, Pratt suggesting contacting Family Service Kent or Neighbour Link.
“We know the last time we were in a lockdown situation that there was a lot of need for helping in the delivery of groceries. You can never have too many volunteers,” he said. “It just helps to spread it around to help prevent burnout.”