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Thank You Letter: Community Food Drive – June 5, 2024

Last week, along with our partners at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown Savings Bank, Jefferson County, Advanced Business Systems, and Food Bank of CNY, we coordinated the Community Food Drive at the Watertown Walmart Supercenter with the aim to gather healthy food donations to help sustain under-resourced families and children during the summer months when school is not in session. 

Food insecurity continues to be a significant challenge in our local communities, with pantries reporting record numbers of families seeking food assistance, so the timing of this drive – and community support – was critical.  We are proud to announce that in total, over 5,700 items were collected and distributed to local pantries and food programs – more than double what we collected and distributed last year!

The event was successful thanks to the generous and coordinated efforts of the community as a whole, from donations of nonperishable food and personal care items to dedicated volunteers spending their time with us making sure donations were distributed evenly. We cannot thank everyone enough for pitching in to make sure under resourced families are supported during the summer months.

It was so heartwarming to see the amount of donations that rolled in from all over – churches, banks, grocery stores and everywhere in between. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of working so hard on an event and then seeing how it all comes together and how supportive the community is of every step of the process, it’s a truly beautiful thing. Volunteers kept morale up through the day and donors came and left with smiles on their faces, knowing they had helped to make a difference in our community.

Special thanks to the Watertown Daily Times, 7 News, and Tunes 92.5 for covering the event, Watertown Walmart Supercenter for allowing us to host the drive in their parking lot again, the Evans Mills Fire Department for providing the tables, Dunkin’ for donating breakfast for our volunteers, Food Bank of CNY for collecting and delivering donations to some of our smaller and more rural recipient pantries and organizations, and our partners who were with us every step of the way from event planning to successful execution and after action feedback to improve for next year.

And from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU again to all who donated and volunteered at the Community Food Drive – we couldn’t have done it without you!

Food insecurity on the rise! United, we can change that!

Food insecurity remains a pressing issue in our local communities, with pantries continuing to see growing numbers of clients over time. United, we can work to change this story.

United Way of Northern New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown Savings Bank, Jefferson County, and Advanced Business Systems are working together to coordinate a Community Food Drive aimed at addressing this critical need by gathering healthy donations of food for children and families. The drive will take place on Wednesday, June 5, in the Walmart parking lot on State Route 3 in Watertown. From 8 AM to 2 PM, individuals and organizations are invited to contribute non-perishable food items and hygiene products to benefit local pantries and organizations.

The timing of this drive aligns with the summer break from school when under-resourced parents and caregivers face additional challenges in meeting the nutritional needs of growing children. By supporting this initiative, the community can help alleviate the burden on families during this critical period. Food pantries across the region are reporting significant increases in the number of individuals seeking food assistance.

At the VEM Food Pantry in Carthage, the number of families served has more than doubled in the past two years, with the pantry serving 248 families from January 1 to April 30 in 2022 and 586 families during the same period in 2024. The number of individuals served jumped from 735 to 1569 between 2022 and 2024, with the breakdown as follows: 534 children, 770 adults and 265 seniors in 2024. The pantry provides clients with a 5-day supply of food, 15 meals per person, totaling 11,025 meals for 2022 and 23,535 meals in 2024. According to Jody Mono of the VEM Food Pantry, “2023 was a significant jump as well, it has been a steady increase, but looking at this being doubled humbles us all.”

United Way of Northern New York calls upon all individuals, businesses, and community organizations to lend support to this important cause. Consider placing a collection box within your premises to gather donations and spread the word by sharing the event flyer and following United Way of NNY on social media to amplify the message about the food drive.

Should your business or organization wish to contribute to the food drive by gathering donations in the workplace, the United Way team is happy to provide the necessary tools for success and will work to support your efforts every step of the way. Click here to access the food drive toolkit or call us for help, (315) 788-5631.

Bridges out of Poverty Workshop – June 14, 2024

United Way is honored to partner with Pivot, and Alliance for Better Communities to host a full-day Bridges out of Poverty workshop.  Join certified Bridges out of Poverty facilitators Dawn Cole and Tim Fayette for an exploration of the causes of poverty, hidden rules, language, and resources.  The workshop material is designed to enhance understanding of the hidden rules for individuals living in poverty, middle class, and wealth with a goal of engaging all socio-economic classes in the development of solutions to community level issues.  Those who work with individuals living in poverty or who want to advocate for those in poverty will benefit from this interactive workshop.

Date: Friday, June 14, 9 AM – 3:30 PM

Location:  Conference Rooms A/B at Jeff-Lewis BOCES, 20104 Arsenal Street Watertown

Cost: $20 / person, includes “Bridges out of Poverty” book and lunch

RSVP: Click here to email or phone (315) 788-5631

United Way: More than a name. It’s community impact!

From time to time, we get asked “what is the United Way?” Most people know us as a fundraising entity.  (Think pledge forms in the workplace.) Lesser known is the true scope of our work and its impact on families and communities across the North Country.  In 2023, more than 32,000 individuals, including 10,400 children, were assisted through United Way services, including nutrition, transportation, after-school and in-school activities, education, strategies to alleviate poverty, housing assistance, substance use / mental health programming, counseling and so much more!  Responding to the call to action to support United Way through a donation, corporate sponsorship, or attending an event is critical to ensuring that robust services are accessible to those in need. Here’s why:

United Way unites communities, resources, and partners to collaboratively address local needs, foster impactful programming, and enhance quality of life.  In the North Country, community needs are prioritized in three areas of focus:

  • Social determinants of health – factors that contribute to well-being, including housing, transportation, education, and nutrition, to name a few.   
  • Youth / child success – programs and vital supplies necessary to ensure that children can learn, grow, and successfully transition into adulthood.
  • Economic stability – supports to help families strengthen financial resources, move out of generational poverty and/or avoid falling into situational poverty.

Addressing community priorities is a pretty tall order – more than any one entity can successfully manage.  United Way looks to community partners to build and strengthen programming around these pillars.  Each year, nonprofit organizations offering human service programming are invited to submit applications for funding to support initiatives that align with community priorities.  Members of the community, including those with firsthand experience living in poverty, evaluate the applications and determine the funding allocations.    

Community impact funding is not just about writing check; United Way seeks to establish and build partnerships to ensure that programming offers the highest rate of return for the charitable dollars invested.  United Way builds enhanced partnerships, often with schools, providing input into program design or serving as a fiscal conduit for grants and charitable gifts.  Enhanced partners include Edwards Knox Central School District, Watertown City School District, and Jeff-Lewis BOCES, and United Way is currently exploring partnership opportunities with Morristown Central School.

Professional development opportunities are regularly made available to the local nonprofit network and the community at large, including a monthly Lunch & Learn UNITED series, highlighting relevant topics such as DEI, cultural competence, media relations, and grant writing.  United Way hosts “Bridges out of Poverty” and “Workplace Stability” workshops to bring greater awareness to the challenges of living in poverty and daily instability and provides ongoing support to graduates of the “Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-by World” workshop series as they work to achieve their future stories.  We also provide short-term support and coaching to working individuals who are struggling with a financial setback or emergency that threatens their continued stability. 

We are truly grateful for the many individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations, civic clubs, schools, and community groups who uphold the “Live United” model and enable the work to continue! 

To learn more about United Way and how you can be part of this movement to bring about positive change across the tri-county area, check out our website, pop in the office located at 167 Polk Street, Suite 300 Watertown, NY or call (315) 788-5631.

An Exciting Fundraiser That Impacts Tens of Thousands

United Way is gearing up for the 3rd Annual Kentucky Derby Social – our largest annual fundraising event, the proceeds from which support dozens of vital programs, impacting thousands of North Country residents.

If you’re looking for an exciting event situated in beautiful downtown Sackets Harbor, filled with great food, music and fun AND you want to change lives … the Kentucky Derby Social is for you!

Grab your favorite spring outfit and fancy hat and join us on May 4, 2024 for an unforgettable evening. Not into horse racing? No worries. You will be treated to toe-tapping live music, a delicious array of Southern-themed food artfully displayed by Embellished Catering, creative cocktails or mocktails prepared by Sackets Harbor Ballroom proprietor extraordinaire Margaret Coe, and the good company of those who rally around the “Live United” call to action!

A $60 “general admission” ticket gives you access to all the festivities alcohol free. A $75 “advance admission” ticket gets you all the festivities plus two drinks from the bar. Check out the details and grab your tickets before they’re gone.

In case you need more convincing about the impact of your support of this event, review the list of Community Impact Programs that address community issues like generational poverty, food insecurity, transportation, housing, at-risk youth, domestic violence, mental health, substance use, and so much more! Each year, United Way programming touches the lives of some 30,000 individuals across the North Country with life-altering, stabilizing services. Thank you for helping to make it all possible. We look forward to seeing you at the Kentucky Derby Social!

We are grateful for your continued support and for the corporate partners of this year’s event:

The AES Corporation
RBC Wealth Management
Knowlton Technologies
One Digital
Taste New York
Embellished Catering

For those corporate friends interested in highlighting your brand or product while supporting a great cause, click here to review Kentucky Derby Social corporate partnership opportunities or give us a call at (315) 788-5631.

United We Can Fight Hunger: Community Food Drive

Food insecurity remains a pressing issue in our local communities, with an increasing number of households turning to food pantries for support.  You can help to ensure that children and families have enough to eat during the summer months when school meals are not readily available.  

Join forces with United Way, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County, Watertown Savings Bank, Jefferson County, Advanced Business Systems, Food Bank of CNY, and Walmart to address the critical need for food by supporting the community food drive on June 5, 2024.  

Consider making a donation or hosting a food drive in your place of business.  We’ll provide the tools to help make your food drive successful.  

Click here to access the food drive toolkit.  No time to host a drive but you still want to help?  Click here to make a gift. 

On Wednesday, June 5, in the Walmart parking lot on State Route 3 in Watertown, individuals and organizations are encouraged to drop off donations of non-perishable food and personal care items, between the hours of 8 AM and 2 PM.  All items collected will be distributed to local food pantries.

If you’d like to volunteer for the food drive, we’d love to have you!  Please contact us to coordinate timeslots.

The timing of this drive aligns with the summer break from school when under-resourced parents and caregivers face additional challenges in meeting the nutritional needs of growing children. By supporting this initiative, you can help alleviate the burden on families during this critical period.

A little goes a long way, and any contribution you can make will have a tangible impact on a friend or neighbor who is at risk of going without enough food. Those who have experienced hunger firsthand understand how debilitating it can be, particularly for children. Adequate nutrition is crucial for their ability to learn, grow, and thrive.  1 in 5 children is uncertain where their next meal is coming from.  The risk of hunger compounds during the summer months.  Let’s work united to change that!

Contact us for more information on how you can help! 

The Gift of Giving: Empowering ALICE Through Acts of Generosity

In a world often overshadowed by self-interest, a young Carthage student stands as a prime example of generosity and compassion. At just 14 years old, Leo Bowline exemplifies the spirit of giving, choosing altruism over personal gain year after year. 

Every year in December, Leo selects an organization to raise funds for instead of receiving birthday presents, though his parents still give him the option. A truly remarkable and thoughtful young man, he still chooses to fundraise rather than receive money and gifts for himself. 

“I just decided that it would be better for me to give back than receive more than I needed,” Leo said.

This year, Leo’s heartwarming gesture was directed toward our ALICE program at United Way of Northern New York. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, representing a group of hardworking individuals who don’t qualify for traditional assistance but still find themselves grappling with the rising costs of living, as well as unexpected expenses due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a medical emergency or car repair.

According to Leo’s mom Jessie, he had a list of places he could choose to donate to for this year, and ended up choosing the ALICE program, which we oversee, as it stood out to him the most. “It’s really the people who are trying their best but they still don’t get enough, that’s why I chose it,” Leo said. “Life is expensive.”

When we learned about his generosity, we invited Leo and his family to our office for a chat about his fundraising efforts and supporting the ALICE population. Since that visit, we have been more inspired than ever in our efforts to strengthen communities and support those in need.

This is the fifth year that the 8th grader has asked for donations for others, and has raised $1,530 so far for the ALICE program. “It gives money to the people that are trying their best but they’re not there yet,” Leo said. “It makes me feel really good that I’m helping all those people that need it.”

According to Jessie, anything Leo and his younger brother Elliot bring in during their birthday fundraisers, the family matches dollar for dollar, amplifying the impact of the donations. She noted that there’s still an opportunity if anyone wants to donate to the ALICE program, and the Bowline family will match up to an additional $1,000.

Leo’s journey of giving didn’t begin with ALICE; it’s been a tradition in his family for years. “It started when we’d have birthday parties and invite everyone in the classroom,” Jessie said. The family realized that amidst the flurry of gifts, many remained untouched, so they decided to redirect the abundance towards meaningful causes.

Leo’s younger brother, Elliot, shares in his brother’s commitment to community service. Over the years, they’ve supported various initiatives, from the Safe Schools Endeavor to fundraising for Guitars for Vets and Toys for Tots and Elliot’s chosen cause over the past few years: the Tyler R. Christman Foundation. Their collective efforts have left an indelible mark on their local community.

Reflecting on their sons’ altruism, Jessie and her husband Brandon are full of pride. “They recognize that, in general, a lot of us are more fortunate than others and even when we try it’s sometimes not enough, so they’ve always been very eager to give back to others,” Jessie said.

Leo and Elliot embody the essence of generosity, inspiring those around them to give back and make a difference. As they continue to grow and mature, their commitment to serving others remains unwavering, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future with their shared goal of uplifting our local communities!

It is truly an honor to live and work united with such philanthropic young men!

From Park to Pantry: Nourishing Our Local Communities

Each year, a quiet yet profound movement takes place, one that connects communities through the simple act of giving. Spearheaded by dedicated individuals with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, this movement revolves around food donations and their transformative impact on local communities.

Headquartered in Alexandria Bay, MaryAnn LaClair-Nelson, an Administrative Assistant 1, helps to orchestrate an annual food drive that embodies the spirit of generosity and community support. The MLK Food Drive, which kicks off every December and extends until early February, is an overall effort to rally park employees to donate food items or monetary contributions in support of United Way of Northern New York.

MaryAnn noted that her office chooses UWNNY because we serve Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties where a majority of their parks are. “We do this to support our local communities,” MaryAnn said. “We know that there’s a lot of people that need a lot of things right now. And if this is a way we can give back, we’re all for that.” 

Over the years, the drive has witnessed a steady increase in contributions, with the collective goal of eventually reaching 1,000 pounds for the 1000 Islands region—an achievement that speaks volumes about the commitment to making a difference. This year, 435 pounds of food, along with some monetary donations, were brought to our office for us to distribute where there is a great need.

“This is one way that we can all easily do something small, but it makes such a big difference,” MaryAnn said.

Meanwhile, at the VEM Food Pantry in Carthage, our chosen recipients of the donations, Jennie Burke, Nancy Rome and the rest of the team are on the front lines of support for local families facing food insecurity. The pantry serves as a lifeline for many, especially amidst rising food costs and economic challenges, so it was a no-brainer for us to deliver to them to aid in their efforts. 

“The people really need it here because food supply is so expensive now when you go to the store,” Nancy said, highlighting the critical role the pantry plays in alleviating financial burdens. “Us being here helps them out a lot, it really does. You see the smiles on some of their faces, they can’t believe what they get.”

With numbers steadily rising as demand increases, the pantry remains steadfast in its mission to provide essential provisions to those in need. From canned goods to meat, bread, pastries, and frozen fruit, each donation contributes to nourishing families and fostering a sense of hope within the community.

The pantry even has free coats they offer to their clients along with hats people make and bring over to them, highlighting the steadfast community support for this local initiative. The pantry is open Mondays and Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm and Wednesdays from 3 to 7 pm, and is aiming to open another day as well. 

Jennie and Nancy noted that Wednesdays are generally their busy days, with one recent night seeing 31 different families visiting the pantry in those four hours, underscoring the importance to the community and great need in the area.

For Jennie, volunteering at the pantry is more than a duty; it’s a heartfelt tribute to her late husband, Mike, who dedicated himself to serving others and brought her on board with him about five years ago.

“It’s a good way to honor him while doing something important in the community,” she said. “The need is really great and we’re really making a difference.”

It was truly an honor to connect with both NYS Parks and the Carthage VEM Food Pantry to facilitate this wonderful exchange of donations and support, a prime example of the power of living and working united.

Students Serving Students: Proudly Supporting Meals With a Mission

There’s a remarkable initiative taking place at Jefferson/Lewis/Hamilton/Herkimer/Oneida BOCES, spearheaded by Hospitality Services Instructor Margaret Coe. It’s called Meals with a Mission, and it’s more than just a program – it’s a lifeline for students facing food insecurity.

Hospitality students not only learn culinary skills, but also use those skills to prepare meals for their peers in need – and they aren’t just learning recipes, they’re learning the value of compassion and community service at the same time.

The students prepare nutritious meals, freeze them, and then send them home with under-resourced peers. The program is currently serving 17 students, providing them with meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Behind the scenes, we at United Way of Northern New York are proud to sponsor such an amazing program and love to deliver ingredients and supplies as needed.

Whether a family is struggling financially, or a caregiver is unwell, the support is there. Meals with a Mission extends beyond preparing food, it’s also about empowering students. From understanding ingredients to labeling containers, students are actively involved in every step of the process, and the program encourages collaboration across classrooms, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose.

Our sponsorship reflects our commitment to addressing pressing issues in our communities, including food insecurity, and supporting initiatives that make a tangible difference. In a region where the need is significant, this partnership provides vital resources and amplifies the program’s impact.

As the program grows, so does its potential to transform lives.