United Way Emerald Coast aids almost 32,000 people with COVID relief fund

Special to the Northwest Florida Daily News/USA TODAY NETWORK

FORT WALTON BEACH — Last month United Way Emerald Coast (UWEC) commemorated the one-year anniversary of launching its COVID-19 relief fund to support local, community-based organizations that provide services for individuals and families affected by the pandemic.

In March 2020, as schools closed and local businesses started to cut hours, UWEC and its sponsors decided it was time to step up for their neighbors and fill in the gaps, a news release from the nonprofit said.

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Since then, individuals and families across the region who were financially impacted by COVID-19 turned to UWEC and its nonprofit partner agencies to provide them with critical services and basic needs such as food, stable housing and medical care.

Starting with a donation of $125,000 from the Gulf Power Foundation, UWEC’s COVID-19 relief fund raised a total of $318,888 that was distributed to 20 local nonprofits providing rent, utility and mortgage assistance; emergency food and shelter; health care; and child care.

Alan Gieseman and Neko Stubblefield of the White-Wilson Community Foundation presented Kelly Jansen, CEO of the United Way of the Emerald Coast, and members of her team with a grant as a part of the Foundation’s Emergency Relief Program. The foundation provided the $1,000 donation to the United Way to help with the organization’s COVID-19 response.

"UWEC cannot begin to express enough gratitude to their corporate partners who contributed to the COVID-19 relief fund including: Gulf Power, Beach Bank, Wind Creek Hospitality, Eglin Federal Credit Union, United Way Worldwide, Florida Blue, Publix, Wells Fargo, Hancock Whitney, Beast Code, SunTrust/Truist, Whole Foods Markets, the White-Wilson Community Foundation, Humana, Step One Automotive Group, and more than 40 individual donors," a news release from United Way Emerald Coast said.

“The last year presented a number of challenges on so many fronts. We are honored to have been able to work with United Way Emerald Coast to pull together as a community to help those most impacted in these unprecedented times,” Bernard Johnson, regional manager for Gulf Power, said in a statement. “Through partnerships like UWEC we are committed to helping our customers and our communities during difficult times.”

United Way Emerald Coast presented a Phase Four Covid-19 Grant donation of $10,862 to Habitat for Humanity Okaloosa at the site of Habitat Homes No. 63 and No. 64 in Crestview. Pictured left to right: Bernard Johnson, Gulf Power; Nitsi Bennett, President/CEO, Habitat for Humanity Okaloosa; Kelly Jasen, CEO, United Way Emerald Coast; and Glenn Langan, Gulf Power.

With schools closed, the COVID-19 relief fund provided 664 weeks of child care so working parents could continue to provide. For families struggling to make ends meet because of lost jobs, reduced hours and cut health insurance benefits, UWEC stepped in and kept 139 families in stable housing, paid 145 utility bills, and filled 791 30-day prescriptions.

UWEC and its nonprofit partners distributed 665,943 pounds of food and provided 571,191 meals to locals who faced food insecurity. Additionally, 823 hygiene, clothing and COVID-19 care kits were distributed to ensure basic needs were met and that partners could safely provide critical services to clients in crisis.

In total, UWEC and its partners assisted 31,833 individuals in Okaloosa and Walton counties through the COVID-19 relief fund.

“During a time where so many local households were struggling to make ends meet, we leaned on our network of sponsors to ensure we could provide for our community," Kelly Jasen, UWEC president and CEO, said in a written statement. "I can’t even begin to describe how thrilled we were to see them step up in the way that they did. Because of their support we have been able to help so many of our neighbors in Walton and Okaloosa counties and truly turn things around for many families impacted financially by COVID-19.”

Jasen added: “Our community has seen incredible progress as families have started to recover from impacts of the pandemic, and we are so proud to have been a part of that. Many are still struggling to meet basic needs and that’s why UWEC fights everyday for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

UWEC continues to help Okaloosa and Walton county residents recover through its Community Investment Grants. This fund supports the work of local nonprofit partners who are effectively addressing our area’s most critical needs through health care, education and financial stability. Applications from UWEC Partner Agencies for the 2021-22 grant cycle are currently being reviewed.

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More information about the COVID-19 relief fund and UWEC's sponsors, partners and community impact is available at united-way.org/COVID-19.