The United Way of Gloucester County usually prepares at this time of year to host its annual campaign kickoff at West Deptford’s Riverwinds Restaurant. But for 2020, the event has moved to a new venue: the internet.
The local United Way is a nonprofit that connects the community with resources across the county. But due to the COVID-19, the organization this year is using those resources to support people during the pandemic.
“We were built to serve in these disaster situations,” said Michael Gower, executive director of United Way in Gloucester County. “We know all of the community partners, and the people of the community know us, so we have been able to connect people with the right services.”
One phase of the nonprofit’s aid was a series of micro-grants to help slow the spread of the virus. A second phase included working with community partners to help residents in key areas affected by the pandemic, including food distribution, domestic violence services, direct services to help residents pay electric bills and health services.
“Because of COVID, we have had to open up our funding pool and we have been providing a lot more grants to the community,” Gower explained. “We have supported over 50 agencies through our COVID relief funding.”
The United Way also helps the community through donations made by the employees of local companies; they have money deducted from their pay to aid the nonprofit or other organizations of their choice.
“A lot of times people ask why we would do that instead of them writing a check directly to those agencies,” Gower noted. “We will make sure that it gets paid out directly to those organizations, and it’s a way for an individual to give a larger gift by spreading it out over time.”
But COVID has made it more difficult for the nonprofit to receive the employee funds. According to Gower, donors who have long provided gifts may now be furloughed or laid off, making their donations smaller or nonexistent.
“One of the hardest things for us is to make sure we keep the funds going out to support the agencies and programs, because they so desperately need the financial support,” he acknowledged. “We are kind of down on our fundraising from last year, and we are going into a new fundraising year, which is going to be very challenging.”
Despite those difficulties, the organization has been sympathetic to residents whose financial situations have been impacted by COVID. Pledges are now being reevaluated and will not be reflected in paychecks until next year, so employees will not see deductions in their current pay.
“We know that COVID is going to be a very difficult period of time,” Gower said. “We are trying to use a lot more digital aspects to get the message out about this year’s appeal and why it is so critical to support the local United Way.”
The United Way has digital fundraising pages that feature short videos of connected agencies, what they do and services they provide to the community. The organizations all seek funds to support the Gloucester County community.
The nonprofit is waiting for rules and guidance to plan its next initiatives, the Toys for Tot drive and a holiday food drive to replenish county pantries after the holidays.
“We are still trying to work on the logistics,” Gower said. “But I always want to stress the United Way of Gloucester County is specific to Gloucester County. What’s raised here stays here, and we really try to support our local community needs.”
To get involved with fundraising efforts or volunteering in the county, call the 211 information hotline or visit https://uwgcnj.org.