The United Way of the Coastal Empire kicked off its 2020 annual fundraising with a goal of $8 million. Typically in Bryan County, kick off means a big event with donors and volunteers gathering at the Richmond Hill City Center. Due to the pandemic, the organization celebrated the event entirely via social media, and news coverage through all three local television stations aired on Sept. 10.
According to organizers, funds raised from this annual campaign will be used to support some of the region’s best-performing nonprofit agencies that are working on the frontline to ensure that every child has the potential to succeed, adults can provide for their families, and everyone can lead a healthy life. Through the Community Fund, 44 programs through 32 agencies provided services to over 8,350 Bryan County residents in 2019.
In 2019, workplace giving accounted for nearly 85 percent of the annual campaign. Led this year by Campaign Chair Chief Terry Enoch, Chief of Police of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and long-time resident of Richmond Hill, United Way will continue to conduct its workplace giving campaigns via video-conferencing and physically distanced-presentations.
“Despite the challenges of running a campaign this way and learning as we go, I could not be more proud or inspired. The need is greater than ever, but so is our courage and resolve as a community,” Enoch said. “Raising $8 million for our friends and neighbors in need will take all of us, from every walk of life, pulling together to give what we can.”
"The needs in our four-county area – Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty – continue to grow as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring new challenges," the organization said in a press release. "In our region, nearly 120,000 individuals and families were living paycheck to paycheck with no reserves even before the pandemic. Many of these hard-working individuals had two or three jobs to make ends meet. They make more than the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to cover a bare-bones household budget. The cost of living outpaces their earning ability. And now, many have lost some or all of their income."
“Many people who have never needed help before are reaching out to United Way for support through circumstances that vary almost as widely as people do,” said Brynn Grant, president and CEO of United Way of the Coastal Empire. “And many of our partner agencies are seeing great increases in demand for their services as well.”
In mid-March, United Way of the Coastal Empire activated the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund to strategically support those who had experienced a critical loss of income directly related to the pandemic. Since that time, the community has contributed nearly $700,000 and helped more than 1,800 people, mostly with housing and utilities. More than 90 percent of those assisted have never needed help before.
Grant added, “While it is not without challenge or risk, United Way knew it had to do this important work to help more people and get this capital flowing through our regional economy.”
At the Bryan County United Way offices in Richmond Hill and Pembroke, Area Director Mary Fuller has seen a significant increase in individuals and families in need.
“Our office has always been here to help fill the gaps in services in our community and connect people to resources that meet their needs but since March the number of people reaching out has more than doubled,” she said. “We are committed to working closely with our community partners to ensure that during this difficult time, together, we continue to meet the growing and ever-changing needs of the community.”
“United Way was built for moments like this,” Enoch said. “United Way was designed by leaders of the community for the benefit of our community. From the Imperial Sugar Refinery explosion in 2008 to hurricanes, and now a pandemic, United Way has been there working to rebuild and restore lives.”
United Way’s annual fundraising campaign will run from Sept. 10 through Nov. 19.
Individuals who need help can call 2-1-1. Anyone who wants to contribute can do so by visiting uwce.org or texting IMPROVE to 40403. For more information on the campaign and what United Way does in Bryan County, follow their Facebook page @uwcebryancounty.