United Way emergency response fund passes $2.1 million
In efforts to rapidly respond to the coronavirus crisis, United Way of Miami-Dade has activated emergency initiative “Operation Helping Hands.”
With the collaboration of funders and corporate partners, Operation Helping Hands has launched the Miami Pandemic Response Fund, which supports struggling families and individuals with emergency needs.
“Operation Helping Hands gets activated during a crisis and this is our first pandemic ever,” said Cristina Blanco, United Way chief communication officer. “We put together speed funds to help those struggling due to the pandemic and also activate volunteers, which we recruit and train them for what is needed.”
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in South Florida, the non-profit organization started out with $350,000 with the help of private and corporate donations and the relief fund is now at $2.13 million, Ms. Blanco said Monday. The funds will be released on a rolling basis as fundraising continues throughout the pandemic outbreak and recovery phases of the crisis, she said.
“Very specific ways the dollars are going to be utilized is by helping struggling families with emergency resources like rent or mortgage assistance, food, medication and also issuing micro-grants to small businesses,” she said.
Over the years, United Way has partnered with local corporations and organizations who are in the forefront of crises or disasters to bring awareness of resources being offered and specifically find people who need it the most. One of those organization is the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bureau’s chief operating officer, Rolando Aedo, said it has partnered with United Way over the years with disasters that have impacted the community and believes the non-profit has done a great job monitoring and aggregating available information and resources to help Miami-Dade residents.
“We are communicating with workers in the tourism industry that there are available resources through Operation Helping Hands,” he said. “A lot of workers are either laid off or fired… United Way will help our industry workers on truly unprecedented times.”
Tourism being the foundation of the community, Mr. Aedo said, about 150,000 people are employed in the hospitality industry in Miami-Dade County. “We rely on United Way to be a portal and connect us with other identities that provide needed resources.”
South Florida has many organizations and partner agencies that can help, but the challenge is bringing awareness, Mr. Aedo said.
“A lot of people aren’t online looking for assistance, even on normal circumstances. They might not be aware of these resources. We want to educate hospitality workers to make sure they take advantage of what we have available for them, because they are the ones who have been affected disproportionately.”
Once the word gets out there, Mr. Aedo said, the convention & visitors bureau is ready to assist United Way staff with the high volume of hospitality workers inquiring information and resources. “On our website, we also have a dedicated Industry Help webpage showcasing other hospitality-centric relief efforts. We also have other resource pages like Miami Eats for restaurants open for delivery and take out, Miami Salutes with special offers and deals for first responders, and Open Hotels for essential lodging.”
United Way wants South Floridians to follow what local officials are instructing and recommending and take all precautions like wearing gloves and masks, Ms. Blanco said. “We are all in this together and going through this at the same time. People can help by giving a little bit of their time, contributing with a donation, but most importantly making sure we are helping one another.”
With a large number of struggling families and businesses, this is the time for organizations that have the ability to step in and together address the short-term impacts, but also looking long-term economically how this pandemic is going to affect us, she said.
“We need to have faith and know that major institutions are working night and day putting information out and helping to build resiliency,” Ms. Blanco said.