Bringing Hope During the Unknown
Greater Valdosta United Way supports communities across South Georgia every year. This year, 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.
The organization funds 20 other local nonprofits and ultimately provides over 50 charities for more 60,000 residents.
GVUW’s programs have four main areas of concern: education, income, health and homelessness. According to community members throughout the year, those sectors have been impacted by the pandemic.
“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.”
Last year, GVUW had a goal of $750,000. As the goal was surpassed, Smith says they saw an increase in donations for the first time in a decade.
The team set its new “Community United Campaign” goal in October to $850,000.
“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.”
United Way is only half way there and 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 COVID-19 , 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. About $6,300 was distributed 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.
“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.
The organization is teaming up with Georgia Beer Company for a Las Vegas-themed New Years Eve Party to end the year.
“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 Georgia Beer Company.