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United Way's Rapid Response to COVID-19

Mike McKnight, the CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland, in his office wearing a blue suit.

Written by Esther Tung. Photo by Vincent L. Chan.

"There's a sense of pride in being able to respond quickly, collaboratively, and meaningfully,” says Michael McKnight, president and CEO of United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM), as he reflects on the early days of the organization's pandemic response.

United Way of the Lower Mainland first mobilized support for neighbours to help each other and set up food hubs to meet the critical need for food security. United Way of the Lower Mainland also seeded the Community Response Fund (CRF) with half a million dollars to provide immediate relief to charities on the front lines.

“It’s very appropriate that iconic, community-based organizations were the first ones to step up,” McKnight says, referring to the partnership between Vancouver Foundation and Vancity, along with the City of Vancouver. “The CRF gave donors a place to go right away, with a sense of trust in the organizations involved.”

Though some might consider United Way and Vancouver Foundation as competitors, McKnight sees it differently. 

“Everyone saw a critical need for the CRF and wanted to be a part of this collaboration of community leadership,” McKnight says. “We’re known for our history of being collaborators. So, when Vancouver Foundation reached out, it wasn’t a  question of, ‘Should we?’ but ‘What can we mobilize now?’”

McKnight sees great potential for the legacy of the CRF as “a template for responding to future emergencies.” He alludes to the “Big One” as an example — the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that experts say is due to hit the West Coast. “We’ve worked through so many of the pieces that we could draw from to be even more responsive when we should face this next crisis in our community.”

Donate to the Community Impact Fund here.