Written By: Denise Davy
It’s a way to introduce the community to some incredible artists. It’s a way to bring strong, innovative women together. It’s a way to raise money for those in need. It’s the United Way of Halton and Hamilton’s Annual Art Auction, and it’s a win-win for all.
Running from March 1st to the 12th, the art auction is a chance to introduce the community to some of the best female artists in the area, while at the same time raising funds to support important programs.
Organized by a group within the United Way known as Women United, this national program has become an integral part of the United Way and is made up of female leaders and community members.
Jassy Hundal, Director, Resource Development, United Way Halton and Hamilton, says the group’s role is to work on fundraising initiatives, help raise awareness of the needs in the community, and showcase what programs are available to help people. Jassy says it’s a win-win because the women who are members get a chance to use their talents and resources to empower girls and women in the community and, in doing so, they help create lasting change by improving their communities.
This year’s co-chairs of the Women United cabinet are Margaret Grice and Jennifer Cooke.
“It’s a way to get amazing female art pieces to people and a great way to raise funds for the community,” says Jassy. Part of their role is to connect with local female artists. This year’s goal is to have at least 20 pieces from a variety of female artists who will donate their art for free. Last year’s auction raised $45,000 through the works of Oakville painter Leslea Mehltretter, a self-taught award-winning portrait artist who donated 42 pieces for the event.
Was it a tough decision to go virtual this year? Jassy says “no”. “The United Way has been amazing at pivoting and becoming creative at raising funds. It’s another way we can do it that’s safe. We’re at the point with the pandemic where we’ve become innovative so it was a natural fit,” says Jassy.
The United Way of Halton and Hamilton supports Hamilton, Oakville, Burlington, Milton, and Halton Hills and, under the pillar of Women United, it invests $1.1 million annually into 12 agencies that fund 26 programs to support women and girls.
Those programs focus on intervention, mental health, girls’ empowerment programs, crisis, and prevention, including sex trafficking, abuse counselling, violence against women counselling, and programs for young girls to build self-esteem.
Members of Women United work together to raise awareness of the needs and to support the programs. Jassy says this year’s auction is especially important because of the challenges the pandemic has created for some people. “We know that there are so many people on the edge of crisis who are facing significant barriers. For example, gender-based violence has increased by 20 to 30 percent and there are a lot of single moms living with food insecurity who need support.”
Since the pandemic hit, there have been many signs that people are feeling stress. Almost 40 percent of non-profit groups in Ontario have seen increased demand for their services and many people, including families, are accessing United Way programs for the first time.
The demand at food banks and the need for income support have increased in Halton and Hamilton by 13 percent in the past year and 45 percent of Ontarians have reported that their mental health has deteriorated since COVID-19 began. As a result, distress centres have seen a 300 percent increase in the number of calls.
“It’s a tough time for everyone, so with this year’s auction we definitely wanted to come together to support United Way initiatives,” says Jassy.