United Way has offered vital help in pandemic

Bob Gorman

WATERTOWN — As the board chair of the United Way of New York State, I’ve seen firsthand the effectiveness of our 33 United Way members in serving their communities during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

That includes the excellent work performed by Chief Executive Officer Jamie Cox and his team at the United Way of Northern New York in Watertown.

You may have noticed: During the past year individuals, nonprofits and governments called upon your local United Way to help organize many COVID-19 relief efforts, recognizing that the United Way is best positioned to generate a communitywide response during an emergency.

For instance, during 2020, the UWNNY collected and distributed 2.5 million critical items, including masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, diapers, baby food and formula and paper products among 32 cities, towns, villages and school districts in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

Meanwhile, the UWNNY was one of only five national recipients of Kimberly Clark’s toilet paper donation. A semi-truck with 78,000 rolls of Cottonelle delivered the donation to UWNNY.

Additionally, UWNNY provided $665,000 to child care programs, food distribution programs, winter and footwear for children, mental health providers and youth programs in the north country.

In recognition of these efforts, our state United Way board recently awarded $9,000 to the UWNNY to continue providing relief supplies, while also expanding vaccination efforts in conjunction with Jefferson County government.

To bolster the work of our United Way members, our state office oversees several initiatives that benefit all New York residents.

We coordinate the 211 information and referral phone number that connects callers to human service agencies, while also reducing the number of unnecessary, non-emergency phone calls made to 911. During the past year, our statewide 211 call volume rose from 1.9 million to 4.8 million, helping people navigate housing and food insecurity issues, and providing COVID-19 assistance.

Our public policy initiatives help guide the state government to make funding decisions that benefit programs as varied as early childhood education to expanding health care services for low-income senior citizens.

Our office is now preparing the 2022 ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed) report, which will be the state’s first and most comprehensive study of how the coronavirus pandemic damaged the economic well-being of our citizenry.

The biennial ALICE report gives a detailed town, city and county statistical breakdown of how many households are below the poverty line or living paycheck to paycheck. The 2020 report showed that 3.2 million of New York’s 7.37 million households were ALICE, an unfortunate record number even before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m proud of the work performed by our United Way members. While each member is required to have local board oversight and follow national accounting standards, each is also expected to be fluid enough to take the shape of its container.

And that’s why our members, from Buffalo to Long Island, and from Binghamton to Plattsburgh, support programs that are unique to the communities they serve. Accountability combined with flexibility is what makes the United Way successful.

By supporting your local United Way, you are ensuring such cooperative efforts continue. I hope your readers will take the time to thank the staff of the United Way of NNY for its outstanding work in serving your community during the past year and a half.

Bob Gorman of Watertown is former executive director of the United Way of Northern New York and former managing editor of the Watertown Daily Times.

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