When we rebooted Walk 4 Warmth in 2020, we had no idea how good our timing would prove to be. We knew there was need. Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA), long one of our partners in this work and an agency of compassion and expertise in helping people keep their homes, had no help to offer throughout 2019, and in December alone logged 47 calls for help from families facing eviction. Our own Alaska 2-1-1 call specialists reported similar pleas, and too often they had no place to send people.
Together, we changed that. The February 2020 Walk 4 Warmth raised $38,730 for rent and utility assistance.
It turned out we were just priming the pump. With Lutheran Social Services back in the business of rent and utility help, we had a skilled agency at the ready when the wrecking ball of COVID-19 gutted the Anchorage economy. What had been a chronic unmet need turned into a community-wide crisis. Walk 4 Warmth’s seed money preceded the even greater generosity of the community that United Way tapped with Anchorage CARES, and later with the stronger partnership and statewide reach of AK Can Do.
We can’t walk for warmth together this year as we did in February 2020. But we can and will walk united for the same purpose this year – to keep thousands of Anchorage families housed and warm with rent and utility assistance.
The 2021 United Way of Anchorage Walk 4 Warmth begins online rather than on foot with a kickoff presentation at noon Feb. 5 on Facebook and ends with a concluding presentation at 4 p.m. Feb. 14, also on Facebook. Social media is one of the ways we maintain a social connection even while social distancing – I’d rather call it physical distancing – to stay healthy in the pandemic. Our continued social connections of caring, of looking out for one another, and just keeping in touch have eased the isolation of our physical bubbles and sustained us.
When the pandemic and its fallout hit in 2020, donors – many of you reading this among them – didn’t wait for federal aid to arrive. You stepped up for our neighbors, answered the bell for so many hard-working people suddenly in need. You answered the question asked by one of the applicants for rental assistance, who said she felt like her house was burning down and there was no bucket of water. You had the bucket as our community collectively raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for relief.
Further, when the much larger amounts of federal money became available, the Municipality identified this as a top priority and brought new funding and support to take our work to new levels. Between the support from the Municipality of Anchorage, the tireless work of Alaska 2-1-1 and LSSA, and the continued support of AK Can Do partners like the Rasmuson Foundation and Alaska Community Foundation, we had a system that worked and the people who could keep it working through all the unforeseen glitches and woes that crop up in a crisis. None of this was easy. Everyone involved on the front line was hard-pressed. But together, we delivered. About 7,000 families in Anchorage have received rent, mortgage, and utility assistance in the pandemic, through changing iterations of the help that began with the solidarity of an early evening walk along the Park Strip, when COVID-19 was no more than a blip on our horizon.
That’s what we jumpstarted with the Walk 4 Warmth in 2020.
Let’s keep that engine running in 2021.
The need remains – unemployment remains high as our economy remains idle. Clearly, so does the will to meet the need. Proof of that is the pledge of generous donors to match every dollar given to Walk 4 Warmth. The money raised will go to AK Can Do to continue to keep struggling neighbors housed and warm.
That’s a welcome incentive. So is the chance to do something, to take positive action that makes a profound difference in this pandemic. So much of what we need to do to weather the coronavirus is a list of don’ts, orders to restrain and refrain. As vital as social media has been, we can’t live on social media alone. Walk 4 Warmth gives us a wonderful reason to get outside, stretch our limbs, clear our minds and nourish the spirit. It’s a lovely nudge for a family outing, a friendly race. We may have to go forth in our bubbles, but after almost a year of pandemic, “head out” sure feels better than “hunker down.”
So we’re inviting families, businesses, individuals to make tracks any way they like, whenever they like from Feb. 5-14. You can walk, run, dance, swim, snowshoe, skate, ski, skijor or mush for warmth. (By all means, get your dog(s) involved). You can solicit pledges or just walk with a will to support your neighbors.
If you prefer keystrokes to strides, we’ve got you covered there too. You can donate as well as register to walk (registration is free) online at liveunitedanc.org/w4w.