Joe Burris

During a Year of Unprecedented Need, the Community Showed Up

 (SEATTLE)—Thanks to the generosity of community-minded individuals, government and corporate partners, and local organizations, United Way of King County provided rental assistance, food relief and other supports to thousands of families who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic during the last fiscal year, the organization announced today. 

United Way was able to assist the community thanks to its supporters, who provided a record $69 million in donations and grants during an unprecedented year of need. 

The COVID-19 Community Relief Fund raised $36 million for three key areas: rental assistance, food relief and where the need is greatest. The funds raised by the Community Relief Fund represent a portion of the total amount raised by the organization. 

“We are grateful that so many members of our community realized the extent of the crisis and how it impacted our neighbors, friends, families and our communities of color in particular,” said Gordon McHenry, Jr., president and CEO of United Way of King County. “But just as we were beginning to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, a new threat has emerged. The Delta variant of the virus has the potential to inflict more damage on our communities, so we must remain vigilant and continue to provide support where it is needed most.” 

Ethan Stowell, founder and CEO of Ethan Stowell Restaurants, and Steve Hooper, Jr., president of ESR, were campaign co-chairs for the year. Their leadership was essential in engaging partners to contribute to meet needs in our community. Together, they led the way with the Eat, Drink & Be Generous series of virtual fundraising events. 

“Families and businesses across the region, including our own, were hit hard by the economic impacts of the pandemic,” said Stowell, who has been a United Way supporter for many years. “People who had never before been worried about food or housing security suddenly had no place to turn. We wanted to make the biggest impact possible to provide support to as many people as we could, and we knew that United Way was positioned to help us do that. This was a year for everyone to step up and we are grateful to the community partners, businesses, the thousands of individual donors and the United Way team who did just that.” 

Approximately $1.5 million of the Community Relief Fund came from 2,214 online donors. The most common gift was $50. Every dollar donated to the fund went to help people in the community with their housing and food needs. 

When the COVID-19 crisis hit the region, United Way quickly moved to provide rental assistance using the infrastructure of Home Base, a program that was designed to help people avoid eviction. Since the pandemic began, Home Base provided rental assistance to about 12,000 households, or about 23,000 individuals. More than 70% of those tenants were people of color. 

Federal CARES Act funds helped United Way implement rental assistance, and the agency was fortunate it had the infrastructure and personnel in place. Many communities around the country were forced to return CARES Act funds because they were not prepared to handle the influx of money. 

United Way continues to work with large and small landlords to negotiate to pay back rent for those who have fallen behind and who have accumulated large amounts in debt. 

Between October and December 2020, United Way also worked with the City of Seattle to establish the Community Food Fund with an initial investment of nearly $1 million to 27 community-based organizations led by or supporting people of color. An additional $690,000 was invested through the Community Food Fund for the calendar year 2021 in partnership with the Schultz Family Foundation and the City of Seattle. 

Working in partnership with DoorDash and Safeway, more than 5,000 households receive weekly deliveries of culturally appropriate food. 

Reconnecting Youth and ParentChild+ 

United Way donors recognized the dire needs during these unprecedented times and donated to support community college students finish their education and help them break the cycle of poverty. 

Additionally, 206 unsheltered individuals were housed and found employment through Streets to Home. 

Thanks to the support from donor communities like United Way Champions, Change Makers and Emerging Leaders 365, United Way was well-positioned to assist people impacted by COVID-19 throughout the year.

The King County community continues to hurt as this public health crisis rages on. Close to 436,000 people applied for unemployment between March and mid-July. We know that these workers are struggling to make ends meet, so United Way will continue to raise funds and help as many out-of-work people as possible. 

NOTE: In addition to the $69 million raised for United Way of King County, donors also contributed about $18 million in donations designated to other agencies.