United Way is always on the front lines of community problems, both every day and crises, and COVID-19 is no exception.

Since the initial outbreak in March, we’ve had our dukes up, fighting relentlessly for the most vulnerable among us.

Our board swiftly launched an action fund to support those devastated by the pandemic with emergency and COVID-19 action fund grants.

We organized 150 volunteers to craft more than 4,500 cloth protective masks for nonprofits and essential employees (before market availability) and partnered with the city of Janesville for drive-thru distributions.

In a leadership role on the Reopen Rock Task Force, we convened the nonprofit sector, communicated need gaps, orchestrated a county-wide mask and thermometer giveaway and proudly tout the stay safe pledge.

Alongside sister United Ways and our partners at local chambers of commerce, we advocated for nonprofit inclusion in CARES Act funding and administered federal emergency food and shelter program grants.

Working to advance equity and understand critical needs, we serve on 20 local coalitions and regularly share resources with peers as part of a Facebook group for Rock County nonprofits.

With few exceptions, we have continued partner payments uninterrupted despite an immediate and ongoing decline in corporate and individual giving.

Empathizing with our corporate partners of all sizes, we understood their challenges to include furloughs, layoffs, uncertainty and morale. Due to safety precautions, we knew special events would be cancelled and our ability to fundraise in traditional ways would need to be drastically altered, so we activated text-to-give and a brand new ePledge option for payroll deduction.

Campaign volunteers have been motivated to cultivate new corporate partners and regularly deliver campaign presentations on digital platforms. Our Community Impact Council volunteers continue to assess the evolving and emergent needs of the region to target resources where they will be most effective and impactful.

As the pandemic continues to strain our community, we are seeing a surge in need for food, housing and utility assistance. Calls and contacts to United Way’s 211 line have more than tripled, and requests for mental health services are up. We commend nonprofits’ capacity to adapt and creatively pivot, efforts to fortify their staff and boards with tools to meet growing demands for service but also with hope.

Mary Fanning-Penny is president and CEO of United Way Blackhawk Region.

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