Internal Programs & Initiatives

United Way Emerald Coast proudly supports a strong network of non-profit partners across Okaloosa and Walton counties. Additionally, through internal programs and initiatives, we are able to directly impact the lives of individuals in our community and actively build a healthier, stronger region.

Confronting our community's biggest challenges takes diverse support and manpower. With the help of individuals, non-profits, businesses, and government partners, we can get it done.

In Okaloosa and Walton County, 1 in 3 Struggle to Make Ends Meet

ALICE is a United Way acronym which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. ALICE represents hard-working households who live paycheck to paycheck; reduced hours, a family emergency, or unexpected expense can be catastrophic. Nearly 36% of all households across Okaloosa and Walton counties are ALICE or living in poverty. ALICE helps us define financial insecurity in our region.

These are our neighbors, our daycare teachers, grocery store associates, hotel clerks, home health aides, and more. They are absolutely essential to our community's success. ALICE households were already on the brink of financial crisis before the pandemic and now, they need our help more than ever before.

ALICE chart

The Facts

  • Standing for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, ALICE represents the hardworking taxpayers in our community struggling to make ends meet. They live just one health emergency, car repair, or harsh storm away from poverty.
  • More than 42,900 households - or 40% of the population in Okaloosa and Walton counties live below the ALICE threshold, despite working.
  • Low incomes limit a families ability to: live in a safe neighborhood with strong schools and community resources; afford a reliable car or healthy food; or access quality child care, education, and health care services. When households face difficult economic conditions and cannot afford basic necessities, they are forced to make difficult choices and take risks that have consequences for their households and their community.
  • The ALICE Household Survival Budget is the minimal estimate of the cost of household essentials - housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and a smartphone plan, plus taxes. It does not include savings for emergencies or future goals like college or retirement. The Survival Budget for Okaloosa and Walton counties shows a single adult would need to earn at least $13.40 an hour to afford their most basic needs; a family of four would need an annual income of at least $60,600. These costs are well above the Federal Poverty Level of $12,140 for a single adult and $25,100 for a family of four.

The bottom line is, ALICE households are forced to make difficult choices. They often skip preventative health care, accredited child care, quality food, or car insurance. These "savings" threaten their health, safety, and future, and the costs are high for both ALICE and the wider community.

The ALICE data is especially important now to help stakeholders identify the most vulnerable in our community and direct programming and resources to assist them through the pandemic and the recovery that follows. It is important to shine a light on the challenges ALICE households face and find collaborative solutions.

Access the 2020 Florida ALICE Report here

Access the interactive Florida website here

When cold weather hits, United Way Emerald Coast launches the annual Coats for Kids drive. The mission of Coats for Kids is to ensure that every child who needs a winter coat receives one.

How You Can Help

From December through January, help provide a warmer holiday season by donating new coat(s) to one of the drop off locations throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties. You can also sponsor a coat drive at your workplace, with your civic organization, or faith-based organization.

Distribution

Delivery of coats is done through schools, county or local social service agencies, churches, synagogues, and through other non-profit organizations. Last year, we distributed more than 2,000 coats to families throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties.

 

Click HERE to donate or find a 2020 Coats for Kids drop-off location.

We are excited to begin our annual Cram the Van event! This year is a little different, and we have added a few new ways to give. We have our annual event at Staples, an Amazon Wishlist of school supplies, and online giving! If you have questions or want more information, please reach out to Jackie Schulte at jackie@united-way.org.

Cram the Van flyer

 

Stay tuned for our 27th annual Day of Caring, coming in October 2020! Each year, UWEC mobilizes hundreds of volunteers on a single day of service to complete projects for local non-profits and schools. Last year, 841 volunteers from 69 companies participated. They completed 62 projects and donated more than 3,600 hours of service representing a total value of $84,268!

United Way Emerald Coast proudly serves as the Local Board Administrator for The Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP)in Okaloosa and Walton counties. EFSP was created by Congress in 1983 to help meet the needs of hungry and homeless people by allocating federal funds for the provision of food and shelter. To learn more about the program, please click here.

EFSP

 

 

EFSP

 

ReadingPals is an early literacy initiative focused on supporting children in preschool through 3rd grade. UWEC is proud to host this program in partnership with The Children's Movement of Florida. Our program matches trained volunteers with 1-2 children to work on early literacy skills and social-emotional development during school hours or after-school care. This approach to early intervention and individualized attention sets students up for the best likelihood of success as they progress through their school years.

Our children need your help! If you're interested in learning more, or ready to volunteer, please contact our Education Coordinator, Jackie Schulte at 850.243.0315 or jackie@united-way.org. In person and virtual opportunities are available.

It's easy to participate in the nation's largest food drive. All you do is place some non-perishable food by your mailbox and your letter carrier will pick it up and deliver it to our local food banks! In 2019, more than 150,213 pounds of food were collected and distributed to 27 food banks across Okaloosa and Walton counties. This event is usually held the second Saturday in May, but it was postponed this year because of COVID-19.

United Way Emerald Coast offers free tax assistance programs for hardworking low-income households.

Due to COVID-19, VITA Tax Preparation sites are CLOSED. Clients may use MyFreeTaxes to complete a basic tax return. 

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides low- and moderate-income individuals and families with free, reliable assistance in filing federal tax returns.

MAXIMIZE YOUR MONEY by filing your taxes for FREE!

  • MyFreeTaxes: File your own taxes online anywhere, anytime, with a robust support page for assistance. Most filers complete their taxes in less than an hour.  COMPLETELY FREE!  NO INCOME LIMITATIONS!  (Schedules C, D, or E are not available).
  • In Person: IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified taxpayers. Our volunteers specialize in Earned Income and Child Tax Credit, deductions and Affordable Care Act and will do all they can to keep. This free option applies to anyone who earned less than $56,000 in 2019.

Last year, VITA prepared 258 tax returns, representing $491,283 in total refunds! Our community members also saved more than $45,408 in tax preparation fees.