United Way is committed to supporting Keys residents affected by COVID-19.
United Way of Collier and the Keys (UWCK) is leading efforts to respond to COVID-19 in Monroe County. In addition to immediate relief in the first weeks and months, we are carefully planning for a long-term response to the pandemic’s effects in the Keys, with up to $100,000 earmarked accordingly.
Even before the pandemic, 37% of Monroe County individuals and families were not able to make ends meet, due to high costs of living and circumstances beyond their control, despite often juggling multiple jobs. Due to business closures and a disruption to our tourism-based economy, these Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed (or ALICE) residents, already living paycheck to paycheck, are sinking further into financial instability. Thousands of families continue to rely on our work even as businesses resume operations.
Our community's response during the pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. Local businesses, nonprofits, and citizens have stepped up to provide food and other resources on a daily basis for months. Now that the Keys have reopened, we want to thank everyone who has helped so far and reiterate our commitment to continuing to help our residents during the difficult months to come. Below are a few of UWCK's efforts to help the Keys community during COVID-19:
Local Community COVID-19 Relief Efforts
- Feeding South Florida, in partnership with Monroe County, UWCK and Ocean Reef Community Foundation held five food distribution events across the Keys in April and May, resulting in over 1500 households having food to feed their families.
- UWCK and Monroe County worked with Farm Share and Fishbusterz to arrange special delivery truckloads of food, primarily fresh produce, 3 times a week to 10 Keys hot meal or pantry locations. At one point, there were 7-10 meal or food pantry options for hungry Keys residents each day of the week throughout our 120 mile chain of islands. Food pantries have seen skyrocketing needs, with hundreds of cars waiting to receive assistance.
- UWCK is facilitating a regular COVID-19 call with 30-50 local human services providers, the county health department and emergency management focused on collaboration and communication, identifying unmet needs in the community, and coordinating responses accordingly.
- UWCK has the most comprehensive listing of Monroe County resources, changes to services/programs and local information, plus state and federal programs and assistance on our Community Resource Guide page. Residents who need assistance should start there.
- $20,0000 in immediate response funds were allocated on March 20 to to expand the capacity at local food pantries or provide limited emergency financial assistance for critical needs.
- In April, further grants totalling $30,000 were made to again increase the ability to meet demand through food pantries and to continue limited emergency financial assistance efforts, as previous funds were already exhausted.
- UWCK has been advocating for residents to enroll in state and federal programs. The needs in our community far exceed our ability to respond locally, and enrollment in state or federal programs will allow our local resources to go further. Our efforts began with Florida Reemployment and we have compiled a “Links and Tips to File for Florida Unemployment” page in the online Community Resource Guide. In addition, we developed a system for our volunteers to help clients in completing the paper application for unemployment or SNAP food benefits.
- We are developing the UWCK Remote Crisis Case Management System to assist residents in need and for social service providers to better manage assistance safely.
- UWCCK has focused on increasing access to food throughout the counties and have compiled a list of food pantries and meal sites updated frequently. Local food distribution sources and organizations have worked together to advocate for better quality and more food for the Keys, and the pantries have reported seeing positive results.
Recognizing the importance of providing childcare so parents could return to work, UWCK made $500 grants to help 9 Monroe County Educational Community Investment partners be able to reopen safely. These funds will be used to obtain the new necessary safety items to protect staff and children.
VITA Tax Preparation
To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable citizens, we made the difficult decision to cancel in-person VITA tax preparation dates indefinitely.
In light of these closures, we are offering a Virtual VITA option for residents with simple returns. Virtual VITA will continue through July 15th. We are also referring clients to the free, online tax preparation site, MyFreeTaxes.com. Through United Way’s partnership with H&R Block, every household with a simple return can securely file their federal and state taxes for free. Please watch our Facebook page and KeysUnitedWay.org/vita2020 for updates.
S.N.A.P. Food Assistance
We are actively encouraging residents to explore their eligibility and consider applying for SNAP.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offers assistance to eligible low-income individuals and families. Assistance is provided on an EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card which works much like a debit card. Through our collective efforts, SNAP benefits disbursed have increased by over $3 million since March.
You can apply to SNAP by visiting their website http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/doea/snap.php or by calling 1-866-762-2237.
If you need assistance with the applicaition please email email@example.com.
Where to Get Help
Any Monroe County resident needing assistance should consult our online Community Resource Guide at KeysUnitedWay.org/CommunityResourceGuide. There, you can find information about local, state, and federal services and programs related to COVID-19. We are working hard to keep the information as up to date and complete as possible, to support our community.
What Can You Do?
UWCK and our partner agencies are receiving many offers from people wanting volunteer during this crisis, and we are so grateful. Due to the health risk, volunteer opportunities may be limited. "Like" some of your local nonprofits' pages on Facebook and watch your Newsfeed for their volunteer opportunities, or contact MonroeCounty-FL.gov/VolunteerMonroe.
Another way to help the community is to continue to follow the CDC's recommendation of staying home and limiting interactions with others as much as possible. This is critical to stop the spread of COVID-19. This united effort will enable our community to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
While everyone is affected by this pandemic, if you are better able to weather its financial effects, our friends and neighbors need support now more than ever.
Many in the Keys and across the country are feeling a financial strain, facing food instability, and are in crisis. If you are able to give, any designated gift will help us keep local programs open and responding as residents’ needs in our community grow. Contributions designated for COVID-19 relief will help Monroe County individuals and families through this difficult time.
Thank you to everyone who has donated for COVID-19 relief, including these corporate partners:
- Breakthru Beverage Florida
- Florida Blue Foundation
- Ocean Sotheby's International Realty
- Wells Fargo Foundation
These times are uncertain, but over and over again we see that our donors, partners and the people we serve are filled with generosity, compassion, and courage. While UWCK recognizes that our community will need to rely on state and federal assistance, we are also committed to helping provide sorely needed stability directly to our ALICE residents during this chaotic time. As United Way, we will be there for our community. Whatever is needed, however long it is needed.
Together, we #LiveUnited.