United Way's Response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

(updated 6/24/2021)

In a community where the conversation around the implications of COVID-19 continues, we are reminded of our collective responsibility to our families, colleagues, neighbors, and all community members.  As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of our community, we are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and taking steps to minimize the impact of an outbreak.

You can download our Response to COVID-19 summary here.

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We encourage everyone to read and follow the recommendations from health professionals and local government to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection for yourselves and others. Below are links to reputable resources. 

If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, dial 211. The 211 helpline provides health & human service referrals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has the most up to date information on available resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also visit their website, www.211wny.org.

Are you healthy and able to volunteer?  Visit VolunteerWNY.org to sign up for available volunteer opportunities that address the COVID-19 pandemic. 



The WNY Nonprofit Support Group has put together a comprehensive list of resources to help nonprofits navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. They are continually updating the list with new resources. You can find the full list here - Resources to Address the Impact of COVID-19

Keep your organization's 211 WNY page up to date with current hours and available services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit 211wny.org and search for your organization to update your page. 


Every day people in our community face personal and social crises. Homelessness. Hunger. Inadequate education. Quality health care that is out of reach. COVID-19 has exposed cracks even for families who previously were on solid ground. Now, more than ever, united is the way to wrap our community in support. To stabilize families. To build stronger, more resilient, and more equitable systems so all people can live the life they envision for themselves.

We – the team at United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, our partners and supporters like you – surround tough problems like these and we fight. We fight to make the lives of every person in our community better by improving their health, education, and financial well-being.

Right now, you can make double the impact thanks to a matching grant from Independent Health. All donations made to the Joint the Fight campaign will be matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000. Join the fight today and make double the impact. 




Thanks to the contributions from donors, volunteers, and partnerships we have across the community, United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, as a designated essential service organization, has been able to nimbly and decisively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and address the new and urgent needs of our community.



United Way of Buffalo & Erie County collaborated with community partners to establish resources and support for the nonprofit community, including:

  • The administration of a regional nonprofit survey on behalf of the philanthropic community within WNY. This survey provided vital data to help us identify the needs of service providers and ways in which we might respond;
  • Conducting listening sessions with our funded program partners to learn more about nonprofit needs and long-term challenges they may face in light of COVID-19;

Erie County was awarded federal funds made available through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the Emergency Food and Shelter (EFSP) National Board Program. United Way of Buffalo & Erie County was selected to manage the distribution of $553,210 for Phase CARES (COVID-19 supplemental funds). The Local Advisory Board of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) submitted our Board Plan to the National EFSP office for final approval. The plan included allocations of aid among seven local not-for-profit organizations to supplement their emergency food and shelter programs in Buffalo & Erie County.


In partnership with VolunteerWNY.org, we worked with nonprofit partners to identify on-site/remote volunteer opportunities (compliant with CDC social distancing guidelines) and quickly made modifications to the website to accommodate the new volunteer demand and promote safe volunteering.

  • Over 2,100 volunteers were connected to nonprofit organizations through VolunteerWNY.org in response to COVID-19.
  • 28 nonprofit organizations posted in-kind donation needs through volunteerwny.org. We learned through a survey conducted in May that 13 of those agencies have received in-kind donations through the site, including personal care items, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, and non-perishable food items; masks, water, snacks, and hand sanitizer to distribute to the community; coffee, monetary donations, and recreation/education items for children and teens;


On May 17th we sent a survey to over 300 companies in Buffalo & Erie County and asked Employee Campaign Coordinators how United Way can be helpful to their employees and organization at this time. Results from the survey show a majority of companies have reported most of their employees are working remotely. As a result, we are working on reimagining our current business model around the traditional workplace campaigns and transitioning to virtual campaigns in the workplace. Companies are also requesting:

  • more information and resources for employees; 
  • a heightened awareness of need in our community;
  • more virtual engagement, volunteer, and learning opportunities.

We are in the process of scheduling virtual planning meetings with our company partners as part of our early start to the 2020 United Way Campaign.

We held a virtual focus group meeting with our Corporate Loaned Executives to discuss future programming and rebranding the Corporate Loaned Executive Program.

We hosted a webinar on a virtual reading program called “Vello”.  Vello is an online tutoring program that pairs volunteers with classrooms to provide guided reading support through a safe and secure digital setting.



United Way is a member of the WNY Philanthropic Response Coordinating Workgroup. This group mobilized the generosity and wisdom of the philanthropic community to provide a coordinated and collaborative response targeting basic needs.

This workgroup created the WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund. This collaborative philanthropic effort was led by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Health Foundation for Western & Central New York, The John R. Oishei Foundation, and United Way of Buffalo & Erie County.

Over $7.5 million was raised from local foundations, private sector companies, community leaders, and individuals. Of that over $750,000 was generated from 1,800 donors through an online portal managed by United Way. The WNY COVID-19 Community Response Fund distributed over $6.5 million in emergency funds through 156 grants made to nonprofits throughout WNY.



United Way actively engaged in advocacy efforts to include critical federal public policy funding in the March 2020 CARES ACT as well as future relief bills, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) emergency funding, funding to help child care centers remain open, the continuation of 211 funding, creating a permanent charitable deduction, and funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA).


As a result of COVID-19, calls to 211 more than doubled in the first two months of the pandemic and they continue to outpace last year. The top three service request categories were Low-Cost Housing & Shelter assistance, locating Free Tax Preparation Services, and connecting individuals to Government Services.

To help with the increase in calls, United Way brought in National Grid who supplied additional staff to help answer phones and ensure no call to 211 went unanswered.

211 WNY Covid Results



  • Our virtual Community Baby Shower had 18 virtual showers, 57 virtual Welcome Baby cards were submitted, and we have raised over $12,000 to benefit local mothers in need. 
  • Community members have submitted 361 virtual Thank You cards to be distributed to local essential workers;
  • In April and May, we implemented a virtual Board Leadership Training, with 150 individuals utilizing our new online platform that included 5 informational modules.
  • On May 5, 2020, we piloted a virtual UWBEC Town Hall. Michael updated approximately 25 attendees on what the organization has done in response to COVID-19 and offered attendees a chance to ask questions and offer feedback.
  • We held our first virtual Community Conversation on the topic of Healthy Babies & Children on May 28, 2020, to coincide with the Community Baby Shower. Mary K. Comtois, Program Director for Health, led the conversation featuring guests from Buffalo Prenatal Perinatal and Jericho Road. 35 people attended the live webinar and we received positive feedback from the attendees.


Our top priority is the safety of our staff, volunteers, and partners.  We have taken the following precautionary steps:

  • We continue to operate at full capacity with a majority of staff working remotely. We do have a very limited number of staff whose responsibilities require physical presence and are being allowed in the building under strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines at the present time;
  • We have created a preliminary phased-in action plan which we have shared with our staff and tenants and it will be finalized in the coming weeks to provide detailed guidance on density, health, and safety requirements when staff begin to return to the office;
  • We temporarily revised our policy to restrict the number of external (non-United Way) meetings that occur at our building until October 1, 2020;
  • We have canceled and/or postponed all business-related out of town travel through the end of 2020;
  • We are conducting a staff/tenant survey on protocols for returning to the office to help us identify and address any areas of concern for staff/tenants as we get closer to welcoming staff back into the building;
  • We continue to hold regularly scheduled remote team meetings to foster communication across our entire staff.