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During the surge of Omicron infections, early education and care providers were once again feeling the crushing weight of the pandemic. Children were getting sick, and so were providers. Staffing shortages were chronic.

Stories of these struggles reached the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, where the staff came up with a plan that could be called rapid-response philanthropy.

“We talked about what we could do to support educators and staff at our partner agencies and the local child care industry in general,” Xavier Andrews, the United Way’s communications director, says. “We came up with the ideas of soliciting corporate support.”

“In January,” a press release adds, “United Way launched the Childcare Appreciation Fund to show appreciation for staff at area childcare centers.”

“To boost morale and cultivate needed equipment, United Way issued a call to action to corporate partners to ‘adopt’ a childcare center either with a financial gift or a gift of testing and protective supplies.”

The responses:

• over $120,000 in donations from:

AEW Capital Management

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Boston Consulting Group

Boston Children’s Hospital

The Boston Foundation

Commonwealth Children’s Fund



Ropes & Gray

WCVB, and

multiple anonymous donors

• the appeal also led to in-kind donations of health and safety equipment: 

Bank of America donated 100,000 adult-size surgical masks, 13,000 pairs of medical-grade gloves, and 1,300 bottles of hand sanitizer

Procter & Gamble donated 4,000 face shields, and

Mintz provided cases of masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant spray

The results?

More program stability and more human relief.

“Some grant recipients have already informed United Way as to their plans for the funds, which include staff wellness events, luncheons, individual gift cards for employees to use for meals, and purchasing branded clothing for staff,” the press release says.

And Andrews adds, “One of our partners let us know that brainstorming about how to use these funds was a respite for them from the day to day demands of their work.”

The United Way is still collecting funds for this effort. Donations can be made here.

Amy O’Leary, executive director of Strategies for Children, praises this initiative, saying, “The United Way stepped up to organize this fund so we can all extend our appreciation to early educators and program staff.”

There’s also an advocacy lesson to be learned. The United Way’s efforts also set an example of how philanthropy can provide emergency support and help programs plan for brighter futures. And while this is crucial during an emergency like a global pandemic, there may also be far less urgent situations where businesses and foundations can form fruitful partnerships with early childhood programs to help these programs, their students, and their providers thrive.