When I think about South by Southwest (SXSW), my mind usually goes to music. Hosting around 900 musical performances this year, it’s hard not to. Not only is SXSW a music festival, but it is also an annual film, tech, and cultural extravaganza. Between March 11-20, creative industries from across the globe joined together in Austin, Texas to discuss how they use innovation and creativity to face today’s toughest global issues.
Among the cutting-edge presentations and panels was our very own Sawyer Baker, Director of 211 Programs at United Way Worldwide (UWW). Baker presented alongside Brittany Graunke, Director of Drive at DoorDash, and Elizabeth Perez, Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs and Equity at the Washington State Department of Health. The Panel, Solving the Pandemic’s “Invisible Problems,” (listen to the recording here) discussed how Ride United: Last Mile Delivery (RULMD), a UWW program developed in partnership with DoorDash and the local 211 and United Way network, responded to offer real-time solutions to issues that evolved rapidly and were exacerbated at the onset of the pandemic. For example, addressing the reduction in volunteer forces who historically help deliver meals to clients, or ensuring that students switching to remote-learning could access not only educational materials but also free/reduced lunches at home, or supporting pet parents facing challenges with keeping all family members fed, and those navigating charitable food systems for the first time.
The panel also highlighted that, although RULMD was catalyzed at the start of the pandemic, it has evolved to be more than just a unique “pandemic solution.” RULMD showcased its superpower of delivering directly to anyone in need, transforming the way our communities address food insecurity.
Since the program began in 2020, over 11 million meals have been delivered in 134 cities and towns across the country. By utilizing RULMD, United Way can meet our community members where they are, ensuring that we provide access to essential items and connect clients into available community resources.
Including, but also expanding beyond food security, United Ways across the country are identifying specific needs and using RULMD to offer equitable solutions. Like United Way of Lane County that is working to serve the unique needs of immigrant and refugee populations, United Way of Summit and Medina that is working to support maternal health and services for Black Women, and United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra that is working to support BIPOC-led partners to reach historically underserved communities.
RULMD will continue to deliver more than food and new uses for deliveries will continue to unfold. By delivering non-food items like period products, mental health kits, and senior supplies alongside meal and grocery deliveries, we can serve the whole person – providing both dignity and convenience. You can learn more about RULMD here https://www.unitedway.org/rideUnited.
"I am so proud that UWW, 211, and DoorDash were able to speak at SXSW about the incredible work happening locally every day through RULMD. Presenting at a conference of this caliber highlights the scale and impact that this program continues to have across 35 states that are providing this service. I hope you'll join me by offering a virtual "cheers" for this amazing accomplishment all around,” said Sawyer Baker, 211 Programs Director.
Do you or someone you know need help finding resources in your community? Dial “211” or visit 211.org to get connected.