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

Born Learning Photos

United Way Emerald Coast's Emerging Leaders partnered with the City of Crestview to install Okaloosa County's first Born Learning Trail at Allen Park

Born Learning Trails are a series of 10 interactive games for young children marked by engaging instructional signs. The trails turn a trip to the park into an active learning experience, helping children develop skills for school readiness. Based on the latest early childhood research approved by national early learning experts through United Way of Worldwide, the Born Learning Trail is designed to help adults interact with children to boost language and literacy development. It also helps caregivers understand how best to support early learning in outdoor everyday moments.

While Born Learning Trails offer families an opportunity to learn and grow together, they also serve as a way for residents and neighbors to get involved in their communities. United Way Emerald Coast offers companies the chance to sponsor trails or build them, making it a great way for organizations to give back to the communities in which their employees live. If your organization is interested in installing a Born Learning Trail in your community, please contact Brittnee Orr, Director of Community Impact at

Each year, UWEC mobilizes hundreds of volunteers on a single day of service to complete projects for local non-profits and schools. In 2020, 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!

Days of Caring went virtual in 2021, inspiring companies and individuals across Okaloosa and Walton counties to give back to their community through daily acts of kindness.

Day of Caring 2022 is scheduled for January 14, 2022!  Visit the Day of Caring webpage to learn how you and/or your organization can get involved in this local tradition.

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.


Over the last couple of years, Little Free Pantries have been popping up nationwide in an effort to address food disparity. UWEC was recently awarded funding through a CARES Act grant for COVID-19 relief to bring ten of these pantries to Walton County. These stand alone, small, weather-proof pantries draw awareness to food insecurity while creating a space for community members to take what they need and give what they can as the need arises.

Little Free Pantries can be found:

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast (435 N 9th St., Defuniak Springs, FL)
  • Florida Department of Health - Walton County (362 FL-83, Defuniak Springs, FL)
  • Matrix Community Outreach Center (37 N 9th St., Defuniak Springs, FL)
  • NWFSC Defuniak Springs (908 US-90 W, Defuniak Springs, FL)
  • Freeport Library (76 State Hwy 20, Freeport, FL)
  • Caring & Sharing of South Walton (112 Lynn Dr., Santa Rosa Beach, FL)
  • NWFSC Santa Rosa Beach (109 Greenway Trail, Santa Rosa Beach, FL)

Little Free Pantries coming soon:

  • L C's Pizza & Subs (901 FL-20, Freeport, FL 32439)

We are currently seeking locations in Walton County to install pantries.  If your business or organization is interested please contact Brittnee, UWEC Director of Community Impact, at 850-243-0315.

Read more about the Little Free Pantry initiative.

ReadingPals Logo

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.  This year, ReadingPals is online-only which means you can help a child improve their reading skills from the comfort and safety of your home or office, committing just one hour a week. 

Our children need your help! If you're interested in learning more or ready to volunteer, visit our ReadingPals page. 

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. 

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is a free, federal program that connects volunteers age 55 and better with the community's most pressing needs. This program is made available by a grant from AmeriCorps Seniors. Volunteers with the RSVP program are matched with opportunities at local nonprofit agencies, utilizing their skills and experience to serve in meaningful ways. 

RSVP is coming soon to Okaloosa and Walton counties.  Contact Gina Stephens at 850-812-3389 for more information.

Stuff the Bus Logo

Each year, United Way Emerald Coast partners with the Okaloosa County School District and Walton County School District to 'Stuff the Bus' with school supplies, ensuring that every local child has the tools they need to be successful in school. 

In 2021, we collected nearly $15,000 worth of supplies, impacting over 10,000 students in 53 schools across Okaloosa & Walton counties!


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

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 the Affordable Care Act. This free option applies to anyone who earned less than $56,000 in 2019.

In 2019, VITA prepared 258 tax returns, representing $491,283 in total refunds! Our community members also saved more than $45,408 in tax preparation fees.

When the cold weather hits and holidays are right around the corner, Emerging Leaders launches their annual collection drive. Formerly known as Coats for Kids, Warm Hearts, Full Tummies provides a warmer holiday for families across Okaloosa and Walton counties by ensuring that every child has a winter coat, and every family has a meal on the table. 

You or your organization can help by hosting a collection drive, donating shelf-stable food and child-size coats, or by shopping the Amazon Wishlist. Warm Hearts Full Tummies 2021 runs from November 12 to December 10.  Visit the Warm Hearts Full Tummies webpage to learn more about how you can get involved this year!

2020-21 Coats for Kids

In 2020-21 we collected and distributed 355 coats to 11 organizations across Okaloosa and Walton counties to keep the children of our community warm.  Special thanks to Okaloosa Gas for their generous contribution and continued support of Coats for Kids.