Brad Cameron, interim director for B.C. Emergency Health Services, gives a speech about the opioid crisis to attendees of United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island’s fundraising kickoff event Wednesday in Nanaimo. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo area United Way kicks off fundraising campaign

Money raised benefits many, including those affected by opioid crisis

The opioid crisis affects everyone and can’t be ignored and United Way Central and Northern Vancouver Island hopes its fundraising campaign can assist those addicted.

The non-profit, with a coverage area that includes Nanaimo, kicked off its fundraising campaign Wednesday, with the aim of making local social issues ‘unignorable,’ as this year’s hashtag catchphrase implores. Signy Madden, United Way Nanaimo area executive director, said the term came about in discussions with United Ways across Canada. Good news stories and results of people’s donations are often the focus, but there were issues like the opioid crisis that communities are facing, she said.

Madden said the issues are unignorable and people aren’t always getting comprehensive conversation around how its changing communities.

“We are funding dozens and dozens of programs, helping 52,000 people, but what we’re finding is people know about the opioid crisis in the homeless population and there’s been services directed towards that, but what we’re finding is … people working, like the workplaces that we’re going into doing fundraising campaigns, other community member, don’t realize that actually the most vulnerable are employed people using alone and so that’s why we wanted to talk about the opioid piece, to highlight that your friend, your neighbour, somebody in your family may have an addiction issue and they’re at risk,” said Madden.

The local United Way offers programs assisting those affected by the opioids regardless of background, said Patti Mertz, area United Way director of development. She pointed to a program called Support Among Youth for young people aged 14-20 struggling with mental illness.

“If a youth had an opioid addiction problem that stemmed from mental illness, like depression or anxiety, they could be helped through Nanaimo Family Life,” she said.

Another program United Way helps fund is the CODE, a John Howard Society non-profit community dental clinic program. Between last January and March the clinic was closed due to lack of money and John McCormick, society executive director, told attendees at the kickoff event that he went to Madden and the United Way for assistance.

“The cautionary tale associated with that is that that was funding for this year,” said McCormick. “It costs about $100,000 a year to keep our community dental clinic open and we have funding that’s going to run until March of this year.”

Madden said the fundraising campaign runs until December, but donations are accepted year-round. Last year, more than $700,000 was raised in Nanaimo.

“There was probably $400,000 worth of services that we wanted to fund this year that we couldn’t, so we’re looking to at least get a five per cent or 10 per cent lift,” said Madden.

People can go to the local United Way’s website for information on how to donate.

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