This extraordinary moment we all find ourselves in requires that I am especially thoughtful in the reflections I share with you — our supporters, partners and community — about United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s response to 2020 and what we learned in the process.
Still today, we find ourselves trying to adapt to the economic and social upheaval brought on by the pandemic. Thousands of families have been affected by job losses and are being forced to make agonizing choices between paying for rent, utilities, healthcare or putting food on the table. For some, this has been an unimaginable experience and troubling reality. Families least able to cope are being hit the hardest, especially families of color who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and wildfires in our region. Moreover, the ongoing injustices against Black people further exposed the structural racism and inequity that still exist in our country.
And yet, we know these disruptive challenges can present tremendous opportunity to inform policy and system transformation. We can learn from these experiences to identify and ameliorate insufficient systems and policies to strengthen and improve our resiliency to economic shocks that have long term and devastating social implications.
At United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, racial equity is at the center of everything we do. We are working hard to improve the health, education and financial outcomes for families and kids of color, so that we can build a more equitable region that benefits everyone.
Because of the generous support of donors and partners, we were able to leverage our capacity and strength as a convener and quickly mobilize a COVID-19 response to provide immediate relief at the onset of the pandemic. When wildfires hit our region, we launched the Wildfire Response and Recovery fund prioritizing support for low income families and families of color by providing unrestricted funding to culturally specific and culturally responsive organizations serving underserved communities. Additionally, through our collaborations with these organizations and with government officials at the local and state level, we are identifying opportunities to shape longer-term disaster response policies supporting BIPOC communities to help them be better prepared for environmental disasters in the future.
Moving into 2021, our Resilient Families initiative will continue to provide supportive housing services, prioritizing families of color with the highest risk of being displaced and divert these families from becoming houseless. We know that economic, health and educational success are intrinsically linked to remaining stably housed. We will continue to work in collaboration with partners across sectors to support BIPOC families struggling to pay rent due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
In this time of uncertainty, change and, yes, opportunity, we continue to be inspired by and grateful for the work of so many in the community during an unparalleled year of challenges. As we look to 2021, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette remains committed as a partner to the long term recovery effort that will result in building more resilient and equitable communities.
While there is still so much to be accomplished, I want to share some critical moments of the year that your generosity and support helped make possible. Thank you for making a difference in our community and for our families.
In gratitude and full of hope,
President and CEO, United Way of the Columbia-Willamette