From left: Neal Adolph, United Way of the Lower Mainland; Sussanne Skidmore and Nikki Hill, volunteer co-chairs of the Period Promise campaign; Selina Tribe, local parent and advocate. The campaign has spurred hundreds of thousands of donated menstrual products for people in need, and successfully inspired many organizations and governments to provide free menstrual products in their facilities.

How United Way helps local people tackle community issues

From Period Promise to Hi Neighbour, opportunities are growing for citizens to get engaged

As a student and young woman in the workforce, Sussanne Skidmore never had to choose between buying food or menstrual products. Too many others aren’t so lucky, says the co-chair of the United Way’s Period Promise campaign, presented by Pacific Blue Cross.

“I was fortunate enough that I could always get by, but then I started hearing the stories, and the impact of not being able to go to work or school or participate in society, and the isolation that can come with that,” says Skidmore, dedicated volunteer and Secretary-Treasurer of the BC Federation of Labour.

United Way’s Period Promise campaign, taking place March 3 to 31, mobilizes local citizens to improve access to menstruation products – products that while a basic necessity, can be challenging to access for those living in poverty or who are vulnerable in other ways. It’s these kinds of grassroots, citizen-driven initiatives the United Way of the Lower Mainland is keen to expand as it celebrates its 90th anniversary.

Skidmore and the Period Promise team are excited to build on last year’s momentum for another record-breaking year of collections and conversations.

“Period Promise has evolved from being primarily a donation and collection program – which is still very much part of the program – into looking at how we can push public policy to achieve real change and break down stigma,” says Skidmore, whose partnerships in the Labour movement have further mobilized both donations and increased awareness.

Rob Chiarello, Senior VP of People and Culture at Pacific Blue Cross, says that when United Way raised the issue of period poverty, supporting Period Promise was an easy decision for Pacific Blue Cross.

“When I realized there were people in vulnerable communities that actually had to choose between paying their bills or putting food on the table and personal hygiene products, I was alarmed. Making it worse, I’ve been in the health benefits business for 20 years and to realize that this issue also translates to people missing work or school, it’s just not right,” Chiarello says. “So, as an executive team, it was very easy for us to support the campaign. We are so proud to be the presenting sponsor of Period Promise; something that has been so overlooked for so long. Such a small thing can be so huge to the individuals affected.”

Responding to local issues, neighbourhood by neighbourhood

These kinds of community-led, United Way-supported projects are under way across the Lower Mainland, from Surrey and Delta to the Fraser Valley.

Zahra Esmail, Executive Director of the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, is excited to see the evolution and impact of this innovative approach.

Through its Hi Neighbour initiative in the Sunset area of Vancouver, United Way has gotten to know this vibrant and interesting, but somewhat disconnected neighbourhood – learning how residents might want to tackle important challenges such as social isolation.

“United Way has been on the ground with us, really listening and hearing what people are saying. It’s really been stepping back and listening with open ears,” Esmail says.

Beyond immediate local needs, the impact of these innovative partnerships is long-reaching.

Last month, the neighbourhood house began hosting a United Way-supported community leadership workshop to help local residents improve their organizing skills, supporting a new generation of engaged community champions.

Residents are also discussing a new after-school program, a community kitchen and a family drop-in – ways to keep families, and community, connected, Esmail says.

“It really is about citizens mobilizing to build their own neighbourhood, and supporting people to lead in their own community.”

To learn more about Hi Neighbour, visit uwlm.ca/hineighbour today. To join United Way’s Period Promise campaign, presented by Pacific Blue Cross and taking place March 3 to 31, go to periodpromise.ca for a complete campaign toolkit.

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Community engagement specialists from United Way are working in grassroots ways with local residents and community agencies like the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House. In places like Sunset in Vancouver, they are exploring what residents say are the greatest assets and challenges in their neighbourhoods, and empowering them to take action.

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