For the first time in a decade the United Way of Fulton County has met its campaign goal, and the executive director hopes the improving economy will allow that trend to continue.
As of Tuesday, the agency collected $340,000, and estimates more will trickle in over the New Year’s weekend. The 2015 donation campaign officially ends today.
It’s a happy conclusion for United Way Executive Director Gina Saaf, after missing last year’s $320,000 goal by only $6,000. “We’re on the upswing, and I’m very excited,” she said.
The next closest year was 2010, when the agency came within 1 percent of its campaign goal.
Saaf attributed meeting this year’s goal to an improving economy. She said donations have experienced rocky ground since the recession took hold in 2008.
“It’s been difficult. We rely on a lot of donations through employee campaigns. So that’s a hard thing, with all the uncertainty in the job market,” she said. “I’ve been here through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Since the job market and the economy has stabilized, it’s been better.”
The county’s United Way chapter receives more than 60 percent of its funding from employee donations through business campaigns. The remainder comes from private donations requested through mailings.
Last year, the agency established a “campaign cabinet,” a group of volunteer fundraisers. Still, getting donations is never easy, Saaf said.
“But we do a lot of local programs that are visible to help people understand what we do,” she said.
They include “Imagination Library,” which delivers books monthly by mail to almost 500 county children, from newborns to age five; “Pack to School,” a fast-growing program which provides school supplies and hygiene kits to kids in need; and “Cancer Care,” which offers people with cancer direct assistance including mileage reimbursement for out-of-county trips to receive radiation treatment.
The United Way also partners with 21 help agencies around Fulton County to provide programs, including Habitat For Humanity, Hands of Grace, and The Open Door.
New initiatives include “Serving Up My Plate,” a pilot program held for Wauseon Elementary School third graders that taught the students about better nutrition and the importance of exercise. The county chapter also has partnered with the Northwestern Ohio Community Action Commission to present “Getting Ahead In A Just Getting By World,” a program beginning in January that will help people break the cycle of poverty by teaching self-sufficiency.
In 2014, over 16,000 units of service were provided to Fulton County residents over all the programming funded through the United Way chapter. “We’re still a critical component of many organizations’ funding,”Saaf said.
She added that having the programs in place “makes the need invisible to the public, which is a good thing. You don’t see the need on the street corner.”
The United Way chapter’s campaign goal will likely increase next year. Traditionally, the campaign kicks off in August and runs through December, although, technically, it runs the entire year.
Saaf said in her 16 years as executive director, “people in the county have been generous. It’s a great place to live. (And) we want to keep meeting the needs and finding solutions to the problems. We are working hard at it.”
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.