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OUR VIEW: United Way chapters rely on public involvement to complete missions

The United Way needs your help.

That’s true regardless of where you live, but it’s also important to realize your home address matters. There are more than 1,800 United Way organizations worldwide and more than 50 in Illinois. A few of the local organizations are United Way of the Illinois Valley, Streator Area United Way, United Way of Eastern La Salle County and Bureau County United Way. Each conducts an annual campaign to raise many thousands of dollars to be distributed to about a dozen nonprofit agencies, and each could use some help reaching the annual goal.

The fundraising campaign isn’t the only focus. There’s the School Tools program, which helps provide school supplies to families in need. The Ottawa-based Eastern La Salle County chapter runs the annual Labor of Love home repair outreach and is involved with things like tax preparation assistance and getting books in the hands of young children. The Peru-based Illinois Valley chapter works to recycle printer cartridges and cellphones.

But while these United Way chapters do good work throughout the year, now is the time when board members and other volunteers focus on the annual campaign. And the numbers could look better.

The Illinois Valley chapter is hoping to raise $250,000. While recent reports indicate more than 60 percent of the goal has been pledged, it must be noted the target has been steadily shrinking, from $460,000 in 2005 down to $300,000 in 2017 and then even lower this time around. In Bureau County the goal is $107,000, when it has been as high as $130,000. The Eastern La Salle County chapter hasn’t provided a recent campaign update.

Streator stands as an outlier, both in timing and success, as its September through November campaign raised almost $293,000 against a goal of only $267,579. That chapter has benefited from remarkable continuity over the years, both in terms of leadership and contributors, as the appreciation dinner routinely honors people who have been involved for several decades and in some cases half a century or more.

A lack of consistency is troubling Bureau County this time around, as the recently hired director stepped down midway through her first campaign with pledges barely more than half of the hoped for total. Fortunately the former director agreed to see the current campaign through to fruition, but that’s only a temporary solution.

So how can you help? Monetary donations and pledges are always welcome. Many local employers have a coordinated giving program, often including incentives for participation. Corporate sponsorships are important, and volunteer opportunities abound, from the serious commitment of board membership to help with short-term and even one-day projects.

Each organization has special events planned to try to goose donations and they all try to make giving as simple as possible. They’re also a good conduit for getting in touch with the right person at the partner agencies they serve, for people who feel pulled to help with a certain outreach but down’t know where to begin.

The easiest thing to do is simply reach out. Here’s some basic contact information for the local organizations, all of which can be found at unitedway,org as well:

Bureau County: 815-875-2631, x1006,
Eastern La Salle County: 815-434-4003,
Illinois Valley: 815-223-8339,
Streator Area: 815-672-6721,

We thank the people who keep these agencies running for their efforts. Constantly being on the hunt for people to give money can be exhausting, even for a noble cause. We also encourage our local United Way groups to strengthen their involvement with the 211 helpline service. Using the same process as calling 911 for emergencies, a 211 service is a direct connection to someone who can provide a free, confidential referral to relevant health and human services agencies. In some communities this can be accomplished by sending your ZIP code to a text message number.

Calling or texting works, but not every county’s information is fully available to the staff who answer the phone around the clock. Making that information available and keeping it current is no small task, but we think it only makes sense to take full advantage of the efforts United Way International invested to getting the service off the ground.

To those who have already pledged, whether new donors or longtime contributors, thank you for seeing the good things United Way does and joining the effort. To those still on the outside, we hope you consider this meaningful effort to contribute to healthy communities. Not everyone has the capacity to donate time or money, but for those who can chip in as available, there is comfort in knowing the efforts are a meaningful step for the greater good.

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