United Way Greater Toronto 2020/2021 Annual Report wordmark

How are we building stronger communities?

VHA Home HealthCare nurse with senior patient VHA Home HealthCare places human connection at the centre of support services for seniors and others. Credit: Courtesy of VHA Home HealthCare

We’ve always used our funding expertise and deep roots in community to drive impact, but this past year, we expanded our reach beyond donor dollars and plotted new pathways to develop community capacity and leadership. Over the past year:

When the Government of Canada needed to get emergency community support out the door and on the ground, they entrusted the job to United Way. We brought our granting expertise — deep knowledge of the issues and populations affected, connection to community and commitment to inclusion — to an expedited process. With an equity and geography lens, intentional and intensive outreach to specific populations, and support for collaboratives and trusteeships to improve access to funding for emerging organizations, we administered the following three federal funds.

New Horizons for Seniors

Administered $850,000 to more than 50 programs serving isolated seniors, like WellFort Community Health Services, which delivered food hampers to racialized seniors in Malton and Brampton.

Reaching Home COVID-19 Emergency Fund

Almost $4.5 million for over 40 programs serving more than 9,300 people struggling with homelessness in York Region. One initiative: Through CMHA York and South Simcoe, mental health workers reach deep into the community to support the most vulnerable.

Emergency Community Support Fund 1 and 2

Over $21 million funded more than 475 wide-ranging programs, from food security and shelter for the Chippewas of Georgina Island to TAIBU Community Health Centre’s trusteeship of four local agencies providing continental African communities with culturally appropriate food, mental health and system navigation services.

Bernard Betel Centre workers cooking in the kitchen

“We went from doing 165 to 200 meals a day before COVID, and this week we did 667 a day,” she says. “And the only way we’ve been able to do that is through grants through the United Way or the federal government, community support programs or private donors.”

—Gail Gould, Executive Director, Bernard Betel Centre

Toronto Star, Bringing food — and hope — to seniors in isolation November 21, 2020

Citizens receiving their COVID vaccines

“Thanks to @UWGreaterTO for supporting Matthew House and @AdamHouse430 through their COVID-19 emergency fund. This fund meant we could give our residents access to isolation suites, regular health screening checks and vaccine information sessions!”


United Way Greater Toronto virtual event

“You got me today, Daniele. Words cannot capture how you made me feel. Yes, we MUST persevere in supporting vulnerable people. “Find courage. Connect. Stay in ‘the carrying place’”. @UWGreaterTO @SevaFoodBank @Food_Bank #CarryOurCommunity #UP4Community Thank you Peel Food Forum!!”


United Way 'Emergency Community Support Fund' banner

“Thank you, truly! These funds are hitting the ground and getting to those who need the support most! @ACSAtoronto has been delivering hampers filled with essential items including food to households #ECSFund #community Thanks to @UWGreaterTO for helping us move quickly!”



Local Love Fund

In the first days of the pandemic, we created a GTA rapid-response Local Love Fund. Almost $2.3 million of that fund activated 200 emergency programs to support residents tackling familiar but intensified issues like food security and mental health, as well as challenges that came with COVID-19. Several programs, like one through Eritrean Parents Liaison Council — one of four grassroots organizations trusteed by Northwood Neighbourhood Services — focused on the growing digital divide, providing devices and internet access to enable people to connect to educational, government and social supports, while Maamwizdaa provided community care and activity boxes to Indigenous families.

Allan Slaight Seniors Fund and General Mills Food Grants

Dedicated grant programs like the Allan Slaight Seniors Fund and the General Mills Food Grants continued to focus on innovation and seeding new systems-level approaches to support vulnerable seniors and improve food access. But they also contributed to the all-in pandemic efforts, with some funds deployed to crisis response. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto, for example, matched dozens of children and youth with socially isolated seniors for virtual and physically distanced outdoor visits. And with many unable to access neighbourhood food banks due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Mississauga Food Bank’s delivery program provided food to almost 1,000 households.

Social Justice Fellowship

Born out of a unique partnership between United Way Greater Toronto and the University of Toronto’s School of Cities, the Leading Social Justice Fellowship is a bold, new leadership development initiative for individuals from the public, private and community sectors who want to rebuild an equitable and inclusive region. The intersecting crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and climate change have disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable in our communities. Social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have shone a spotlight on social inequities and captured the imagination of many. Realizing the opportunity for transformational change in this moment calls for courage and a different kind of leadership, the fellowship will equip over 50 participants with the tools, reflective practices and cross-sectoral networks to enable them to be agents of change in their organizations and communities.

Community Advisory Councils

Having a close connection to community through our advisory councils was vital to understanding unique challenges and responding to them. Through concerted outreach and promotion, including ethno-specific information sessions, councils ensured that pandemic response funding reached equity-seeking communities that had been under-represented. New grassroots organizations within communities received support, as did community-led projects that address culturally relevant needs and services. As well, over the past year:

  • At a time when anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, the rapid research project the Chinese Advisory Council supports as a community partner — a Government of Canada–funded collaboration with Ryerson University and the University of Toronto and others begun last year — released an abstract on COVID-19, Racial Discrimination, and Psychological Distress. The Chinese Advisory Council also worked with local police services to support residents impacted by discrimination.
  • The South Asian Advisory Council continued to place a spotlight on gender-based violence — so important when a spike in domestic violence behind closed doors has warranted the term shadow pandemic. In particular, they participated in the Peel Committee Against Woman Abuse’s multi-lingual information campaign You Are Not Alone.
  • The Black Community Advisory Council hosted its annual Black Leadership and Recognition Breakfast in February. An historic event this year, it pulled 400 people together from Peel — and, for the first time ever, Toronto and York Region too. COVID-19 could not keep community down, and folks connected online to recognize trailblazers and engage in a timely conversation on resiliency and strategies to support the Black community during the pandemic.


290 agencies new to United Way

Agencies new to United Way

120 trusteed organizations = more grassroots agencies and equity-seeking groups benefiting

Trusteed organizations = more grassroots agencies and equity-seeking groups benefiting

373 programs targeted to support racialized communities

Programs targeted to support racialized communities

67 programs targeted to support Indigenous communities

Programs targeted to support Indigenous communities

243 programs targeted to support newcomers and refugees

Programs targeted to support newcomers and refugees

74 programs targeted to support the LGBTQ2S+community

Programs targeted to support the LGBTQ2S+ community