Greater Valdosta United Way facing donation shortage
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) - As communities struggle amid the pandemic, one of South Georgia’s farthest-reaching non-profit organizations is in dire need itself this holiday season.
The Greater Valdosta United Way (GVUW) supports communities across Berrien, Brooks, Echols, Lanier and Lowndes counties every year. But this year, its funds are lacking.
”The last eight months have changed the world so much, and a lot of our agencies have had close to 40 fundraisers canceled and half a million [dollars] worth of donations not come in through the dinners and golf tournaments and events that have been canceled,” GVUW Executive Director Michael Smith said.
Despite their loss of monetary support amid the COVID-19 crisis, Smith says the community’s needs are still souring.
“There’s just a lot of people that are having issues through no fault of their own,” he said. “These are your neighbors that are suffering. These are people that, you know, bag your groceries or deliver your mail and cut your hair. I mean, we’re all in this together.”
GVUW raises money toward a new campaign goal every year. With 96 percent, the organization funds 20 other local nonprofits and ultimately provides over 50 charities for more 60,000 residents throughout its district.
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All of the programs support GVUW’s four main areas of concern: education, income, health and homelessness. And according to local community members throughout the year, each of those sectors have been significantly impacted by the pandemic.
Near the start of the outbreak in late March, South Georgia Medical Center’s Wesley Seay told WCTV, “It’s impacting the blood supply a lot. People are not out and giving blood as often as they normally would. A lot of people are sick and taking medicine, so they can’t. So it’s a real need in our community right now.”
Manager Karen Yawn with The Haven, a shelter for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, said, “For May, June and moving into July, we’ve had an increase in calls, families looking for help.”
The Haven hosted a school-supply-drive in July as students prepared for their new year.
“When families are in this type of situation, especially in our shelter, they don’t have the finances and funds to get everything needed for school,” Alyson Holmes with the Children Advocacy Program said.
GVUW’s partner agency Second Harvest of South Georgia began distributing free meals to families throughout the region right away.
“In almost all the communities in South Georgia, children rely heavily on free and reduced lunch. So, when you have a situation like this where children are out of school, they no longer have those two meals a day to count on,” Chief Marketing Officer Eliza McCall told WCTV.
Last year, GVUW surpassed its goal of $750,000. And Smith says they saw an increase in donations for the first time in a decade.
With a higher demand this year, the team set its new “Community United Campaign” goal in October to $850,000.
Smith says reaching it will take a lot more support in the upcoming year, especially from Berrien, Brooks, Echols and Lanier counties.
“We may not get there completely,” he said. “It’s tough with businesses working from home and people not as connected in the office as much.”
Only half way there, UW is accepting donations until March 2021.
“We have to be together. We have to be united,” Smith said. “Faith organizations, government, business and individuals, all of us working together to help the needs and the suffering of South Georgia.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Smith says donors have contributed about $86,000 to GVUW’s Disaster fund.
More than $42,000 was given to local agencies to provide food, shelter, PPE and rent and utility assistance for those in need.
“So many people are just suffering right now and in flux with the amount of change that’s happened in all of our lives,” Smith said.
GVUW distributed about $6,300 among utility bills for people struggling due to layoffs or reduced work hours.
About $1,700 went toward its Feed5 program, a partnership between GVUW, Jimmy John’s, Relish, Just Love Coffee Café, Jessie’s and Big Nick’s to provide meals for essential workers.
“When you come into our restaurant, you know, we always say ‘Welcome to the family’. If we can give that to someone else, you know what I mean, I think that’s just what it’s all about,” Nick Harden, owner of Big Nick’s, said.
GVUW also used about $2,000 to stock food pantry boxes throughout the community.
But as needs continue to grow, Smith is calling on those who can to give. Whether it’s five dollars or 500, he says, any gift can make a difference.
To close out the year, the organization is also teaming up with Georgia Beer Company for a Las Vegas-themed New Years Eve Party.
“We’re gonna do it COVID-safe, responsible,” Smith said. “But people still want to get out and have a good time.”
You can purchase tickets at the United Way office or at GBC.
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