VICTORIA -- Generous donations have been fuelling United Way's drive to raise $1-million for mental health supports on Vancouver Island.

The United Way of Greater Victoria (UWGV) has launched its "Blue Love" Campaign aimed at providing more services for Vancouver Islanders seeking mental health and support.

The campaign aims to raise $1-million for counselling, peer support and outreach services by the end of 2021 for those dealing with mental heath challenges.

A generous $100,000 donation from Peninsula Co-op helped kick off the fundraiser on Thursday during an event at one of the company’s gas stations near Victoria.

For every dollar raised, Co-op will match those dollars up to $100,000, according to Lindsay Gaudette, the director of marketing and community relations for Peninsula Co-op.

“We are just so thrilled to be partnering with the United Way on this and helping give to those organizations so they can increase the resources that our community really needs,” she said.

The United Way says the Blue Love campaign comes from the idea that not everyone’s heart is red and often hearts are “black and blue” from years of trauma or from events that have changed a person’s life.

“Having Peninsula Co-op stand with us to ensure more services are available for individuals struggling with mental health means the world to us,” said Mark Breslauer, CEO of UWGV.

“We are elated to have such a well-respected and community-minded business partnering with us. It is our hope this generosity will inspire many to give,” he said. “We expect this campaign will allow our valued frontline agencies to help blue hearts turn red by individuals knowing they aren’t alone anymore.”

During the pandemic, demand for mental health services from those seeking help has increased dramatically.

“Our work at the United Way in the community has made us acutely aware that COVID-19 has exasperated the need,” said Breslauer.

“There has been an increase, a staggering 50 per cent increase, in what our partner agencies on the frontlines are servicing.”

Connections Place is one of those partners that the United Way of Greater Victoria works with, and it's experiencing that increase in demand firsthand.

Described as a place for people with mental health challenges to gain confidence, respect, hope and opportunity, Connections Place offers unique programming focused on wellness, employment and education.

“We all need to support this,” said Chris Forester, executive director for Connections Place. “It brings awareness to what makes a difference in people’s ability to be well and support their own mental health.”

If United Way reaches its $1-million fundraising goal, 15 outreach and peer support workers could be hired for a range of island organizations, helping up to 15,000 adults, families, children or youth facing mental health challenges.

Funds raised from the campaign will benefit Blue Love community partners such as Connections Place, Family Services of Greater Victoria, Hulitan Family Services, Greater Victoria Citizen’s Counselling Centre, Mental Health Recovery Partners, NEED2 Suicide Prevention, Education & Support, Pacific Centre Family Services, South Island Centre for Counselling & Training, Sooke Family Resource Society and Vancouver Island Men’s Therapy Centre.

Donations to United Way's Blue Love Campaign can be made here