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United Way Yukon announces closure, citing high costs and fewer donations

United Way Yukon president David Whiteside leaving the organization's Whitehorse office. He said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the organization hard, that inflation is driving up costs, and donations have been in decline for years. (United Way Yukon - image credit)
United Way Yukon president David Whiteside leaving the organization's Whitehorse office. He said the COVID-19 pandemic hit the organization hard, that inflation is driving up costs, and donations have been in decline for years. (United Way Yukon - image credit)

After 30 years of operating in the Yukon, the United Way is closing shop in the territory.

President David Whiteside says the COVID-19 pandemic hit the organization hard, that inflation is driving up costs, and donations have been in decline for years.

"It's complicated," he said. "There's a drop off in donations in part because people are moving to Benevity and Canada Help — that's a good way to donate, keep doing it. Inflation, things are just much more expensive now. We've always had good, inexpensive people working for us, but you just can't hire for that now. We've been working hard, we're tired, and there are no newcomers."

Still, he says, the organization's contributions to local charities and non-profits have remained steady until now.

"By doing that we've used up a lot of reserves," he said. "The bank is getting pretty empty."

Whiteside says the United Way Yukon will still fund projects through its community investment fund in March, and will distribute whatever money remains in its accounts later in the year. He is encouraging Yukoners to continue to make charitable donations to the many organizations operating in the territory.

"You'll see from our website that there are a lot of charities and non-profits out there who need to keep the lights on," he said. "There are way more charities per-capita in the Yukon than other places, and that's because there are needs to be filled."

Whiteside says it's getting increasingly challenging for these organizations to continue running.

The Network for Healthy Early Human Development (NHEHD) is one of the United Way Yukon's long-standing beneficiaries. The organization helps support new parents through the "Partners for Children" program.

"We don't have enough money to operate with the funding that we get from the federal government and the Yukon government," said NHEHD co-coordinator Katie Swales.

"We were worried a couple years ago that this was going to happen and just kind of held our breath and crossed our fingers. Now that it has happened, we're not really sure how this is going to fall out. It may affect our programming."

'I don't think that participants realize the value'

Swales says that the NHEHD has always acknowledged the United Way's funding by posting its logo on their website and newsletters.

"But I don't think that participants realize the value coming from them," she said.

Kari Johnston, a volunteer with the Haines Junction Food Association, said the United Way's emergency relief fund was key to launching a regional food hamper program in May 2020, and that its innovation grant helped keep the program running.

Johnston says a grant from Food Banks Canada replaced the United Way funding this past year, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future. Still, she says she feels the loss of the United Way for the Yukon as a whole.

"I just can't imagine all of the different opportunities that it has launched over its tenure," said Johnston. "And so, I would just like to offer my humble gratitude to those who served in that role for so many years."