The United Way – Amidst The Pandemic

In Dr. Bruce Willson Jr., Lola Shreveport by Lola Magazine

Written by Dr. Bruce Willson Jr., President & CEO

It is hard to believe that 2020 is finally coming to a close. Traditionally, each year’s end is a time of giving and reflecting on our goals for the following year. This year, we anticipate that it will look a little different than we are used to. There is no question that this has been a challenging year for many. Our communities have experienced loss from a pandemic, destruction from several hurricanes, and businesses and organizations have had to create new models to stay afloat.

Fundraising and corporate giving have decreased for many organizations this year. United Way is no exception, but nonprofit work has never been more necessary. Many of our longstanding supporters and corporate partners will be unable to participate in this year’s annual United Way fundraising campaign due to layoffs, furloughed employees, economic instability, and more, making it difficult for us to reach our $1.3 million fundraising goal. However, we remain optimistic that our community will come together to provide the resources needed by so many throughout Northwest Louisiana.

Since the pandemic, we adapted many of our services and programs to fit our community’s most prominent needs. Louisiana 211, United Way’s health and human service hotline, has become a vital resource for individuals seeking COVID-19 information. Since March, United Way has serviced more than 32,500 calls in Northwest Louisiana. In addition, we created the United for NWLA Fund, an emergency assistance fund that has provided over $50,000 to individuals and families affected financially by the pandemic.

COVID-19 may be novel this year, but preexisting community issues have not disappeared and have only worsened because of the pandemic. More people are experiencing economic strains than they have in many years, and more families are now struggling to make ends meet. These individuals often earn above the Federal Poverty Line but less than the basic cost of living. United Way refers to these people as ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). ALICE and households in poverty make up 55 percent of Northwest Louisiana households. Over the next two years, the number of ALICE households is projected to increase due to the economic repercussions of COVID-19.

ShaDerrical Linnear is just one of the many ALICE individuals in Northwest Louisiana affected financially when the virus swept across the nation in March. Prior to COVID-19, she worked at Subway inside Bossier Parish Community College to provide for herself and her two children. With businesses and schools shutting down, Ms. Linnear’s employer was forced to close their doors. She was suddenly and unexpectedly left unemployed. Ms. Linnear also struggles with a lung condition, making her vulnerable amidst the pandemic. She began receiving disconnect notices and could not apply for unemployment, so her mother recommended she call 211. She was directed to the United for NWLA Fund, where she applied for emergency assistance. United Way provided her with utility assistance, so she was able to keep her electricity and water running for her family. Ms. Linnear says, “It was just so much stress off of my shoulders because I really did not know what else I was going to do!” Ms. Linnear is just one example of many people across Northwest Louisiana facing similar challenges. United Way of Northwest Louisiana is here to provide resources and emergency relief to those who are struggling, but we can’t do this without your help.

While we know this giving season may look a little different than it has in years past, we ask our community to consider what you can do to give back. Families like Ms. Linnear’s are often faced with challenging decisions like keeping the lights on or putting food on the table. This year many will struggle to afford the basic necessities needed survive, and some will be additionally burdened with the financial impact of COVID-19 and the effects of the recent hurricanes.

If you are looking for a way to give back this giving season, please consider supporting United Way of Northwest Louisiana. In this time of crisis, our programs and services have never been more essential than now. To help Northwest Louisiana recover from this challenging year, donations may be made at unitedwaynwla.org/donate. For more information on how to get involved, contact Carly Koen at carly@unitedwaynwla.org or 318-606-6589.