As community needs have increased in 2020, United Way of St. Charles has stepped up to meet them.
“We have provided additional food distributions, prescription and grocery delivers to seniors and shut-ins and worked with our school system on tutoring for kids and additional meals for kids,” Executive Director for United Way of St. Charles John Dias said. “I think this community should feel good that their United Way has responded in these tough times.”
These new initiatives are added to a long list of United Way of St. Charles-funded programs – the organization gives over $3.8 million in annual funding to its 32 partner agencies and 100+ programs throughout the year.
Each year United Way of St. Charles holds a giving campaign to mobilize the power of the community to develop resources that support programs and agencies throughout the year.
“In a normal year, which of course this is far from, about 75 percent of the campaign would be done by the first week of October,” Dias said. “One thing we are seeing this year, and we welcome it, is that companies are pushing back their campaigns until later in the fall in order to be more creative in their planning because of the unique COVID-world we’re in.”
Dias said the main difference in fundraising this year, and what worries him, is the lack of personal contact.
“We are a small, local, almost neighborhood United Way,” he said. “As a result, I have been able to develop an almost one-on-one relationship with our donors over the years, because I get to see our donors regularly at in-person campaign talks in the fall. Unfortunately, that can’t happen this year. So, we worry that our donors will perceive us a little bit ‘out of sight out of mind.’”
The cancellation of the 2020 Battle for the Paddle was another blow to the organization.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t have Battle for the Paddle this year – not only because it’s just plain fun – but because it’s a big part of promoting our campaign,” Dias said. “We worry that at a time where needs are up, our fundraising may be down.”
After carefully monitoring developments related to COVID-19 over the last several months, the Battle for the Paddle committee and United Way board of directors unanimously voted to cancel this year’s event.
Battle for the Paddle, the world’s largest jambalaya and gumbo cook-off, serves as the official kick-off for the fundraising campaign. Last year, over 150 teams participated in the cooking competition and over 8,000 attendees sampled unlimited tastings of jambalaya and gumbo while enjoying live music and supporting United Way of St. Charles.
The 2020 Battle for the Paddle cancellation marks the first time the event has been cancelled in its 19-year history.
Dias said exact numbers aren’t in on the increase of funds needed for this year since the year isn’t over yet, but that the pandemic has overwhelmingly increased the need for assistance.
“I can tell you this … and this is sad … not only are we seeing greater need for emergency financial assistance to help people with utility bills for people who have been laid off,” he said, “but we are seeing greater incidence of domestic violence. People are isolated and locked up together in homes for fear of going out, and between the stress of that and economic stress we are seeing, there has been a sad increase in domestic violence and counseling needs.”
If funding dwindles, Dias said, all services would be reduced.
“The main message I have tried to share is that even though everyone’s mind is on an epidemic, all of the issues we had before the epidemic are still there,” he said. “Cancer patients still need help to get to treatment, victims of domestic violence still need a safe house, kids whose parents sadly aren’t getting them fed on weekends still need meals on weekends. There are a host of these issues that United Way always worked to assist with before a pandemic, Unfortunately, they are still there.”
For more information on United Way of St. Charles or to donate, visit www.uwaysc.org.