Inspired to improve lives: my first-hand experience with the United Way.
Nov 29, 2022
Black woman with short curly blond hair smiling
Production Operator, 3M Canada and United Way Sponsored Employee

You would never know what some of your neighbours have gone through just by looking at them. This is a critical lesson I have learned after spending four months working as a Sponsored Employee with United Way Elgin Middlesex. It’s a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity afforded to me by 3M as a secondment. It has been an eye-opening experience, and one that has brought me into closer connection with my community.

In my regular full-time role as a Production Operator at the 3M manufacturing plant in London, I help to produce Duct Tape products that are used for any application from construction job sites to everyday household use. I am also a part-time student, studying Supply Chain Management and Logistics to advance my career. It makes for a busy schedule, but when the opportunity presented itself to use my energy and passion to support local causes, I knew I had to apply and answer a deeper call for connection and service. 

As a child, growing up in Jamaica, I always loved volunteering with the Brownies and Girl Guides. I felt good about volunteering because I knew I was building connections with the people around me – people I might have never otherwise crossed paths with. Through these programs, I learned the importance of being involved in my community and just how much a helping hand can mean to people in need and local organizations that support them. Most of all, I learned about the power of a connected, empathetic community: the kind of support system that can make a huge difference in helping to improve lives.

But before launching into some of the outreach work with United Way Elgin Middlesex, I had no idea just how much people in our community were struggling to meet their basic needs.

The story behind the struggle.

Though there are many kinds of intersecting needs from food insecurity, to abuse support, to drug and substance recovery, what has touched me to my core is to see how many community members are struggling with housing insecurity and homelessness. 

The roof over my head is something I have taken for granted. Feeling safe at night, knowing where I will sleep and being able to stay sheltered from the elements, are essential for me to be able to get up and work every day. This sense of security allows me to be able to focus and learn in my studies and progress in my life. When I’m tired, I know I have somewhere safe to return to and lay my head. To know so many people don’t have that shakes me to my core.

I was stunned to learn 55% of newcomers in our community live at or below the poverty line1. As someone who was once a newcomer to Canada, this statistic is an emotional one that makes me reflect on my own journey, and how things could have gone differently for me.

Not having sufficient resources to support yourself or your family takes away your vision of the future. When someone is simply surviving, they can’t look that far ahead. They are forced to live day to day, sometimes hour by hour, one meal or resource to the next. 

But thanks to the United Way and the work of local agencies, there is hope.

“We’re all facing inflationary pressures, but when you’re living with poverty or low income, there’s more month than money for far too many families and individuals in our community. That means they are faced with impossible choices: do I pay my rent, or do I buy groceries? do I buy school supplies for my kids, or do I pay the hydro bill?”

- Kelly Ziegner, President & CEO, United Way Elgin Middlesex

My experience as Sponsored Employee.

Amid the backdrop of the systemic issues in the community, it’s incredibly uplifting to see the support and safety net services that are available to help people who are struggling. 

My work as Sponsored Employee has included visiting some of the agencies the United Way supports in the community.

I’ve also had the opportunity to help with programs and fundraisers such as the 3M Harvest Lunch and United Way Campaign Launch, which helps provide meals to neighbours in need. When handing out meals, it was shocking to see how many community members needed support, but it’s comforting to see how many people support the event either through buying tickets or by dedicating their time to help distribute meals.

3M Harvest Lunch brown paper bag hanging from a bicycle handle

 “Through my experience as a Sponsored Employee, I came to a new level of awareness of the privileges my family and I benefit from. My daily routines sheltered me from witnessing the poverty, homelessness and other issues in the city. Many of us live in bubbles like this, unaware of the struggle of others in our communities.”

- Diane Piedade, Former United Way 3M Sponsored Employee Events, Hospitality and Community Partnerships Manager, 3M Canada

It’s been great to learn about how the 3M Harvest Lunch has adapted over time to be able to continue to meet the needs of community members. The model has evolved so that people were able to buy a meal for a neighbour in need through the purchase of their ticket to the event. This year alone, we were able to provide over 4,000 meals for individuals in need. Although it’s only one meal, it’s one meal they don’t have to worry about.

3M Harvest Lunch: Helping our neighbours in need.

Learn more.

It doesn’t take much to give.

Although it has been difficult to witness the struggle and hardship many in our community face, I don’t think we can create real change without facing the reality of poverty in our communities. It exists and we must do what we can to help give people a fair shot at a good life.

I am proud to work alongside others who are making an impact by dedicating their time, expertise, and donations to United Way and the agencies it supports. Although it feels like an impossible climb, together we can make progress towards helping our neighbours in need. 

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