COLORADO SPRINGS — The pandemic has shown us that the community coming together can make a big difference for those in need. Now that we're coming up on one year since the pandemic started, coming together to make change is exactly what one local organization has strongly believed in.
Pikes Peak United Way partners with other local organizations to help thousands of people in the community, but their efforts looked much different the past year. The organization expanded their services and helped out in about a dozen new ways since the pandemic began.
"We learned very quickly, that love and collaboration are a powerful force. We have also learned how working together is really the key," said Cindy Aubrey, president and CEO of the organization.
"We were able to help tens of thousands of people in our community."
The organization took more than 55,000 calls from the community to answer COVID-related questions through their 2-1-1 hotline. Staff were trained by El Paso County Health to answer questions.
"These (the people calling) are people who have never been in a situation where they've been out of a job, or they have to seek help from the outside," said Aubrey.
They also helped by transforming local daycare centers into safe spaces, where children could do e-learning while their parents were at work. They distributed laptops, winter coats and 7,500 backpacks for students. Some were given to students at Centennial Elementary School.
"A student will come in and they don't have a backpack, or they don't have a jacket, and they're holding everything in their hands," said Ann Merwede, a first grade teacher, who also mentioned needs in the community were much greater this year. "We've seen people that didn't always need help, reach out and need help. But the partnerships give our students a level of hope that they're not forgotten."
The organization also helped with bi-weekly food distributions, and thanks to them, the school was also able to provide food for students and their families.
"All of our community organizations have really stepped up to support our school during this time. We've been so lucky to see great community outreach," said Kim Noyse, the elementary school's principal. "I think the past year has brought about some unique challenges, but it's also brought about some amazing opportunities."
Pikes Peak United Way also partnered with local government to raise more than $1.5 million. That helped people in the community with things like with rent and utilities. The organization also worked with El Paso County to distribute $1 million in CARES funding. That helped people with rent, utilities, medical bills, and funeral expenses.
The CEO says they received donations last year from partners in the community, up to $50,000.
For more information about Pikes Peak United Way, click here.