Looking back at 2020 in Anchorage, the first word that comes to my mind is gratitude.
That might be surprising, but it’s true. I’m thankful for the way so many of you reading this have played the hand we were dealt in the pandemic – with abiding care for your neighbors that makes “LIVE UNITED” a powerful reality and creates a community.
When the full force of the virus struck in March, our community couldn’t wait for someone to act. United Way of Anchorage swiftly launched the Anchorage Cares fund, and in short order had a quarter-million dollars going out for rent and utility assistance through Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. We had the ways – the organization, the relationships, and the know-how. You – donors, volunteers, and partners – provided the means and the generosity of time and treasure to speedily help suddenly out-of-work residents.
That set the foundation for an even wider and deeper sense of social solidarity as we joined with the Rasmuson Foundation and Alaska Community Foundation to launch AK Can Do – the statewide version of Anchorage Cares. Still later, when federal CARES Act funds became available to the municipality, United Way and its partners had the structures in place to take full advantage of the aid. Together, we’ve delivered the goods.
In this time of doubt and dire economic straits, numbers can tell heartening, hopeful stories. Some of our workplace campaign corporate partners have increased their giving, one company by 20 percent over last year. By late December, more than $15 million had gone out to help almost 7,000 families who lost jobs or suffered slashed hours keep their homes. Restaurant relief has sustained hard-hit businesses and their employees – and sustained children, families, and seniors with meals that nourish body and spirit. Talk about a multiplier effect!
United Way’s Alaska 2-1-1 call specialists have been front and center for Anchorage and Alaska as official sources of information and referral for help, logging 59,423 calls statewide from April 1 to Dec. 22, an increase of 440 percent from 2019. 2-1-1 has again been the go-to portal for rent, food, and child care assistance for thousands of Alaskans.
Stories of hope come from people too. United Way joined the Alaska School District and Camp Fire to create three “learning pods” to reach out to disadvantaged kids who hadn’t been attending remote classes, and bring them to school in a safe setting for classes and two good meals a day.
Rose Ebue, Services Coordinator for Chugach View Senior Housing, spoke to the value of the meals she delivers as part of the restaurant relief program: “I have people who feel that they’re forgotten, that they’re not thought of anymore. Like sometimes they kind of shut themselves off and isolate…When you feed somebody, there’s something meaningful and kind in that.”
It’s early in the morning when Ebue delivers the first meals; they’re bagged to hang on the handles of residents’ doors. “It’s hard to keep that cart quiet. They know I’m coming.”
“If you could only see the light in their faces…”
You’ve provided the means to that light – and proven an encouraging truth about Alaskans at their best: We may have to hunker down, but we don’t back down. The pandemic response of neighbor helping neighbor has not only maintained but strengthened our social connection even as we’ve suffered physical distancing. If anything, we have a deeper understanding of how we count on one another in so many ways.
The gratitude I feel isn’t just for the pandemic response. Throughout a historically rough year, your support has sustained our ongoing long-range programs like 90% Graduation by 2020, Home for Good, and Healthcare Navigation.
- Back on Track, the collaboration that helps struggling high school students recover credits to graduate, continued to grow its graduate numbers – 117 students have earned diplomas since March when the pandemic disrupted the school year.
- Home for Good secured foundation funding and a pay-for-success commitment from the Municipality of Anchorage to house 150 persistently homeless people.
- Our Healthcare Navigators have adjusted to the shutdown with online one-on–one help during the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period, and in cooperation with Anchorage Public Library offered weekly Facebook Live sessions so consumers could make informed choices for themselves and their families.
We’ve only been able to maintain these long-term initiatives with your support. And we’ve only been able to respond so swiftly to the short-term pandemic needs because of the strong relationships and the leadership we’ve developed in those long-term initiatives. Together, that’s what your gift of time, money, skill, and care accomplish.
Now is the time to keep focused on the light ahead. The winter months will still be rough for many of us. Let’s shorten that hard season and keep giving as we can. And when this is over, we can look back and say that without a doubt, we didn’t succumb to division but rallied for equity and opportunity. That when the pandemic exposed inequities in our community, we helped people stay housed, schooled our kids, kept businesses afloat.
We wish you all the best for the holidays, and a 2021 full of light as we continue to LIVE UNITED.