United Way kicks off campaign for $790,000
Setting its campaign goal at the same level as last year, the United Way of Franklin County launched its annual charity drive Friday by telling a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce audience that strengthening the community makes good sense from a practical viewpoint as well as one of conscience.
“So many families in our area, and in our country, are walking a financial tightrope,” said United Way Executive Director Linda Stacy. “We provide the tools for people to lead healthy, independent lives,” by supporting 26 agencies and more than 40 programs, through efforts to support education, encourage healthier living and offer the tools for people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Working with agencies like United Arc, Community Action, ServiceNet and the Franklin Community Meals Program, the United Way helps offer affordable care and stabilize lives, Stacy said, sometimes even providing work shoes or paying for car repairs to help someone for whom it makes a difference in starting a job.
“If a family’s in crisis, we don’t just give them a handout or Band-Aid,” Stacy said. “We work with our partners on long-term solutions. We teach immigrants how to speak English; we teach people how to read. We help young parents get their GEDs. We don’t simply fund a shelter or a food pantry; we help people get back on their feet.”
What’s more, Stacy told the roughly 200 gathered business and community leaders from around the region, opportunities for contributing go beyond simply giving toward the $790,000 goal. There are also ways to advocate for the 76-year-old organization, convincing other people to participate toward the annual goal or volunteering.
At Yankee Candle, which contributes about $20,000 to the campaign, in addition to $45,000 from its employees to make it one of the largest contributors, workers also volunteer to supply backpacks filled with school supplies for the United Way’s backpack campaign, as well as to its summer reading program, company spokeswoman Karen Woods told the gathering.
The company, together with the campaign’s two other biggest contributors, Deerfield Academy and Channing L. Bete Co., bring in a combined total of about $220,000 — about 28 percent of the overall goal, said Stacy.
Last year’s campaign fell just short of reaching the $790,000 goal set, said Stacy, explaining that it’s getting harder to reach the annual goal because there are fewer large workplaces, and more people work from home or telecommute than years ago. In addition, many residents who commute to jobs outside the region don’t realize that they can specify that their donation goes to Franklin County’s United Way.
“We send money back and forth,” Stacy explained because of the large numbers of people working at a distance from where they live.
One concern, she said, is that with Vermont Yankee’s announced shutdown toward the end of next year, the company, which has donated $12,000 a year, won’t be there to make future contributions.
This year, United Way volunteers provided more than 500 filled backpacks for young people returning for the new school year, and the agency, to encourage summer reading, also provided 1,300 summer reading bags to students, preschool to high school.
Teaming up with Kiwanis members, United Way volunteers plan to read to preschoolers in about 20 classrooms in Greenfield and Turners Falls, as much to provide the children with more reading role models as to add donated books to their home libraries.
In addition to trying to reach out to more small employers to offer payroll deduction programs, Stacy said, she’s also trying to find ways for people to make other kinds of contributions, volunteering for the annual auction and other programs.
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