WoodGreen’s UNMET Needs campaign aims to create a more equitable Toronto

Teresa Vasilopoulos is the Executive Director of the WoodGreen Foundation. Photo: Submitted.

By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

WoodGreen Community Services has launched its largest initiative, UNMET Needs, as the organization attempts to raise awareness about Toronto’s many challenges and inequities.

The campaign, which is expected to last between three to five years, aims to rally community leaders to be “part of a movement to create a more equitable city”, according to a press release published earlier this month.

“The needs of growing numbers of Torontonians are shockingly unmet,” stated WoodGreen Community Services President and CEO Anne Babcock.

“Community agencies are witnessing a dramatic increase in the demand for services stemming from pandemic disruptions that disproportionately affected underserved neighbourhoods.”

As the wealth gap continues to increase in the aftermath of a global pandemic, many of Toronto residents’ most urgent needs are going unmet. WoodGreen has reported a 100 per cent increase in food bank reliance since 2021 with food insecurity being three times higher within Black and Indigenous households.

There has also been a 1,000 per cent increase in Senior Helpline calls as seniors have felt an increasing sense of isolation in the past few years.

“With the wealth gap widening and the current economic situation creating alarming pressures, more and more people are unhoused and unsupported in what is already known to be the least equitable city in the country,” said Babcock.

With creative support from OPEN Communications and their partner Skin n Bones Production, WoodGreen has initiated the awareness phase of their two-part campaign which has an end goal of raising $25 million that will go towards battling the city’s insecurities.

Teresa Vasilopoulos, Executive Director of the WoodGreen Foundation, told Beach Metro Community News that the aim of the first phase, which launched on March 1, is to “bring greater awareness to the social service sector and the challenges many citizens are facing, individuals that are unhoused, unsupported, unemployed, unsafe and unseen, and to let people know WoodGreen is here to assist”.

Participants have been using their social media influence to help drive more eyes towards the cause by wearing branded UNMET Needs t-shirts and posting the photos on their respective social media accounts.

This also serves to raise WoodGreen’s profile ahead of the upcoming public fundraising phase.

“The second priority is to raise funds to help sustain programs, expand or enhance services, create innovative approaches and pilot ideas to help empower people to thrive, not just survive,” said Vasilopoulos.

If successful in raising $25 million, $5 million will go towards seniors’ affordable housing and community care supports; $5 million for youth education, skills training, and mental health and wellness programs; $5 million will be allocated to affordable housing for at-risk youth and marginalized populations; $3.5 million for housing, child care, training and education for women and children fleeing abusive environments; 2 million to address the training and employment needs of individuals who are unemployed or under-employed; another $2 million to expand settlement services to support 4,000 new refugees with housing and enhance skills training; and $2.5 million will be used for immediate food and financial insecurity.

Vasilopoulos said that WoodGreen will officially be announcing the launch of the fundraising phase of the UNMET Needs campaign in April.

However, the awareness phase is just as vital due to the recent decline in charitable supports coming in from the community.

According to Sharon Avery, President and CEO of the Toronto Foundation, donations haven’t been flowing in at usual rates and “people aren’t volunteering the way they used to”.

WoodGreen’s report, which suggests that 53 per cent of Canadians are within $200 of insolvency, makes it is easy to understand this decline in community assistance.

Furthermore, a recent Toronto Social Capital Study report revealed that 300,000 Torontonians say they have no one to turn to during desperate times.

“Facing smaller social networks, vulnerable residents often turn to community organizations like WoodGreen for support,” said Avery.

“But when 66 per cent of all charitable revenue in Canada goes to only one per cent of charitable organizations (hospitals and universities), community need often goes unmet.”

Local residents are encouraged to visit https://www.woodgreen.org/unmet to learn more about Toronto’s most underserved needs and how they can help to make a difference.

WoodGreen will also host the sold-out UNMET Gala which takes place at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) on May 4.

Like the rest of the campaign, this event aims to bring together individuals that want to “shine a spotlight on an under supported sector and bring some attention to the issues, raising funds and friends for WoodGreen,” said Vasilopoulos.

Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.


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