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A volunteer sorts food in the receiving area of the Ottawa Food Bank warehouse on April 23, 2020.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

W. Matthew Chater is the national president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. Owen Charters is the president and CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. Dan Clement is the president and CEO of United Way Centraide Canada. Peter Dinsdale is the president and CEO of YMCA Canada. Maya Roy is the CEO of YWCA Canada.

One thing is true of our organizations: We exist because communities need us.

More than eight million Canadians rely on us every year. And when times are especially tough, like now, even more turn to us, Canada’s essential network of community services. We offer spaces where children safely learn and play while their parents work, a hot meal and a place to rest for the night, a first job or resources during periods of unemployment, the support people need to break through barriers and so much more. We are the heart of Canadian communities, helping those living in vulnerable situations, and right now we are struggling.

As front-line charities and non-profits, we provide programs and services critical to Canada’s social safety net. Across all provinces and territories, people turn to us as trusted community service providers to cope, connect and recover – and they need us now more than ever.

Federal pandemic relief programs, including the Emergency Community Support Fund and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, enabled us to provide emergency child care, food programs, virtual services, shelters for people experiencing homelessness and women fleeing domestic violence, mental-health check-ins, personal protective equipment, critical care packages and more. But despite these measures, we continue to be negatively affected by rising costs and diminishing revenues. Canadians are generous, but the economic effects of COVID-19 are affecting many of our supporters, with 37 per cent reporting a reduction in their charitable contributions. As a result, our capacity to serve communities in the future is uncertain.

This is why we are turning to the Government of Canada to implement a Community Services COVID-19 Relief Fund immediately to protect the essential community services Canadians depend on, encourage future philanthropic giving and help us build back better. It is the only way the services that support millions of people in need will survive the pandemic. A program like the new, temporary Veterans Organizations Emergency Support Fund, which helps charities experiencing financial hardship to continue to serve veterans, would go a long way for service charities and non-profits in all sectors.

With the second wave of COVID-19 upon us, our communities are in crisis, especially those that were struggling before the pandemic. Job loss, isolation, stress and other factors have resulted in unprecedented challenges affecting the health and well-being of the people we serve.

Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities have been hit hardest. Women, especially those who are newcomers, are on the front lines providing essential care and services. Women are also taking on the lion’s share of responsibilities at home and are strained as a result, while child care remains unaffordable and in short supply, compounding the “she-cession.”

We are seeing a spike in requests for support, but are struggling to keep afloat. Funding sources are significantly limited or have dried up. Costs have increased while revenues have decreased dramatically because of cancelled in-person programming and fundraising events. Tens of thousands of employees have been laid off. And we’ve experienced permanent closings of long-standing services, with many more at risk, leaving communities without much-needed resources.

We have adapted, but we are stretched thin – and when we struggle, Canadians struggle.

National service charities and non-profits are on the ground in thousands of communities across Canada, with infrastructure, physical locations and a direct line to respond to the needs of Canadians. Governments rely on us to implement or facilitate social COVID-19 response and recovery programs. What will society lose if we are unable to operate?

Without urgent financial support from the government to help us survive the next 12 to 18 months and make it to the other side of the pandemic, a gap in essential services will be created that will be difficult and far more costly to replace.

Support from the federal government is not just an investment in us. It is an investment in emergency response today, recovery tomorrow and the future resiliency of communities.

Put simply, an investment in national service charities is an investment in Canada.

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