How United Way Serves Pittsburgh During the Coronavirus Outbreak

A United Way Volunteer Handing Food Into a Car

The coronavirus has impacted everyone in our community in some way. For local nonprofits like the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania (UWSPA), the outbreak sparked an enormous demand for services. UWSPA is determined to continue meeting that demand, no matter what it takes. 

UWSPA typically focuses on seniors, children, people with disabilities, and families struggling economically, but that has changed in recent months. According to Julie DeSeyn, the VP of Community Impact, nearly everyone the organization contacts now faces some sort of financial battle. Although challenging, the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania thrives on complicated problem-solving. “We’re at the nexus of nonprofits, business, and government,” the organization’s VP of Community Impact Julie DeSeyn says. “We focus on bringing people together to solve problems.”

Julie DeSeyn

Julie DeSeyn, VP of Community Impact

Four Strategies for Giving Back

Over the last few weeks of the pandemic, the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania has primarily focused on four different endeavors to continue giving back to the community:

1. The 211 Helpline

The 211 Helpline is the cornerstone of the organization’s contributions to the community. As a 24/7 health and human services resource, the 211 Helpline is available to assist people with rent, utilities, and other essentials. 

In an average month, the Helpline receives about 10,000 contacts over the phone, website, chat, and text messages. During the coronavirus outbreak, however, its monthly volume has doubled

One of the reasons the volume has been so high is because of United Way’s partnership with the Allegheny County Health Department. “The County Executive’s Office contacted us because they were completely overrun with non-urgent questions during the pandemic,” DeSeyn explains. “They called us asking for help on March 14. By March 15, we had figured out our training and our team was working to help the Health Department answer questions like where to find the nearest health facility or where to receive testing for the coronavirus.”

2. The Emergency Basic Needs Network

Some of the calls that come through the 211 Helpline need more attention than the organization can provide on its own. To continue serving these callers, United Way formed the Emergency Basic Needs Network with eight partners in our region:

These partners assist whenever callers require intricate problem-solving. “We’ve helped more than 800 people so far through the network,” DeSeyn says. “For example, we started receiving calls from people who couldn’t leave their homes to get food, so the YWCA agreed to make house visits. One of the women they delivered to was in her 80s, blind, and had multiple medical issues. Her caregiver had stopped visiting because of the virus, so she was all alone.” 

A United Way Volunteer

3. PNC Bank Grant

Thanks to an enormous grant from PNC Bank, the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania partnered with Eat’n Park to address hunger in the home. 

The organization works directly with participating school systems. Although many of these districts deliver meals to student homes, there are three major limitations:

  • The meals only cover lunch.
  • The meals are only available for students.
  • The meals are only available Monday through Friday. 

United Way supplements these meals and distributes through the existing networks to feed entire families all week long. So far, they’ve delivered more than 100,000 meals, and they’re aiming to deliver more than 250,000 in total. 

4. Flexible Transportation Network

For help in distribution services, UWSPA teamed up with ACCESS Transportation Systems. ACCESS typically specializes in transporting seniors, but demand dropped off during the outbreak. 

Now ACCESS helps to deliver meals and personal protective equipment (PPE) all over our region. So far, they’ve delivered 15,000 meals and 300 boxes of PPE to three dozen locations. 

“Our next goal is to figure out how to safely transport people,” DeSeyn says. She and the rest of the organization want to assist homeless teens and people headed to shelters to have safe, quick transportation to where they need to go. 

United Way Volunteer Distributing Meals

Preparing for Summer

There’s still much to be done, says DeSeyn. In looking ahead to the summer months, the organization wants to find a careful balance between childcare, delivering meals, and helping parents in the workplace. “Parents need to get back to work, but what happens if childcare services aren’t available? Will the children be left in vulnerable situations? Who feeds these children during the day?”

With these questions in mind, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania is now exploring requirements to keep childcare services open during the summer. “If we can safely open these centers so that parents can return to work, the entire community benefits.”

If you’d like to learn more about the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, visit its website. DeSeyn encourages all readers in need of assistance to dial 211 for help. 

At Dugan & Associates, we’re inspired by United Way’s contributions to the community. If you’d like to learn more about our community engagement or our legal work, contact us

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