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A pedestrian uses his phone while wearing a face mask in New York's Herald Square, March 12, 2020.
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Health

How This Organization Is Supporting New York Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a series of other interconnected crises, including food insecurity, a widening gap in education inequality, and severe financial instability. These issues are both global and local — and it's vital we support the grassroots organizations doing the hard work of addressing these issues, while taking action to back the international institutions fighting to fix the bigger picture. Join our campaign, Global Goal: Unite for Our Future, here to help tackle COVID-19, and ensure everyone, everywhere, has the tools they need to beat it.

The COVID-19 crisis has been no “great leveller” — it has been clarified by multiple studies that the virus disproportionately affects the poorest among us, as well as people of color.

And for organizations that have been working to support marginalized communities for years prior to the pandemic, a renewed sense of urgency has emerged. All over the world, activists have mobilized to help protect these communities during the pandemic.

One such group, United Way of New York City, has been fighting to support the most vulnerable people in a state that has experienced almost 400,000 cases, with a death toll of over 30,000 — almost a quarter of the US’ total fatalities.

The charity works to help people experiencing hunger, a lack of quality education, and financial instability through mobilizing a network of 700 community partners to get support to New Yorkers who need it. It’s one chapter in a global organization that fosters the caring power in 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories worldwide. 

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United Way was among the organizations highlighted by Global Citizen through our One World: Together At Home campaign as a regional response partner — our list of grassroots groups doing vital local work protecting people from the pandemic on the ground.

In total, $127.9 million was committed as part of the campaign for COVID-19 urgent relief efforts, including $55.1 million to support the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, and $72.8 million to local and regional responders like United Way.

Procter & Gamble was one of the corporations that offered support to United Way, benefitting from the millions contributed in product, cash, and in-kind donations; while Alicia Keys thanked the charity during our global broadcast for assisting communities of color in getting through the crisis.

We caught up with Jill Bruton, implementation project manager at United Way, to talk about what the organization has seen during the pandemic, how it's been helping people, and what you can do to support the efforts.

As an organization on the front lines of COVID-19, what is the biggest thing you want the general public to know about what you've observed and how the crisis has evolved?

COVID-19 began as a health crisis, yet we knew from early on that it would become an economic crisis too.

As the employment numbers rose, it became clear what this would mean for so many individuals and families living paycheck to paycheck. The impact on communities of color has been disproportionately high, in terms of health and economics. The pandemic and resulting closures of businesses and schools has brought into greater focus inequities and disparities in health, wealth, and education. 

United Way focuses on health, education, and financial stability because we know how interdependent those components are for individuals and communities. We will continue to feed those facing food insecurity, preparing children for success in school, work, and life, and connecting those in financial distress with resources to pay bills and stay in their homes.  

It is critical that we prepare for, respond to, and ultimately help our communities emerge stronger from this. United Way takes the long view, and is in it for the long haul, bringing people together to help communities recover, rebuild, and thrive.

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How is United Way tackling the needs of those communities amid the pandemic? 

United Way has been here, working with and for communities for more than 130 years. When the needs became apparent, we were ready to offer solutions. 

From connecting people to resources via 211, a vital service that provides information and access, to supplementing income through emergency financial support, we’ve been working around the clock. 

United Way has always mobilized people and organizations to address the needs of communities in crisis, and during COVID-19 we’ve worked with new and existing partners to expand the volume and variety of help for those in need. 

With Door Dash and Lyft, we’ve helped people get access to food; with Kimberly-Clark Huggies, we’ve gotten diapers to families in need, and with numerous nonprofit partners, we’ve successfully advocated for economic relief legislation so that we can continue to provide services to our communities. 

What's the most inspiring thing you’ve seen as the world tackles COVID-19?

Unity has been front and center across the globe. People have rallied together in a shared experience, tackling the unknown. 

Despite being physically distant, a hopeful determination brought communities together in a unified effort to flatten the curve. As Global Citizens, we were fueled by a renewed spirit of optimism and conviction that we would get through this. And although the unrest in the US feels like that shared spirit may have been rattled, we are still confident that there is a shared belief that we all want better opportunities. 

Every person in every community must do their part to make them the places that we need them to be — equitable, respectful, and providing opportunity for all.  As a society, we can and must do better to guarantee that the basic human rights and freedoms of every person in every community are protected and ensured. We will continue to fight for every person in every community.

How can people take action and help your efforts?

Give. If you are able, donate to those in need here.

Advocate. Contact your elected officials and ask them to support policies that will help nonprofits and small businesses recover financially here.

Volunteer. Contact your local United Way to participate in virtual or in-person volunteer events here.


Global Citizen has continued to campaign against COVID-19 with the launch of Global Goal: Unite for Our Future, a campaign to ensure the solutions to the coronavirus like tests, treatments, and vaccines are available to everyone, everywhere. Join the movement by taking action here — and read our coverage of the pandemic here.