By Roxann Sebest
Marketing Director, United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley
Whenever our area is in need, the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley is always there. We proved that when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March. Just as we were coming off our most successful campaign in history and celebrating our 100th anniversary, we, like the rest of country, were faced with this unprecedented challenge.
Our United Way quickly shifted gears from event planning mode to response mode. We convened our nonprofit partners to determine a plan of action. Thanks to donations from the Jane F. Lamb Charitable Foundation and the William M. Neckerman Jr. Foundation, we started our COVID Response Fund.
The donations from the Lamb and Neckerman funds went directly to children and families from the 19 school districts we serve through our Success By 6 and Success After 6 initiatives. We worked closely with the staff at each district to identify students and families who needed assistance. In 2020, we distributed $100,000 in gift cards from both Giant Eagle and Save-A-Lot.
In the first weeks of the pandemic, we teamed up with the city of Youngstown and the YMCA of Youngstown to provide food to those most in need. We continued this partnership when the Youngstown City School District needed help with its weekly food distribution. We worked with city employees and school staff to pass out breakfast and lunches to hundreds of students each week.
In April, we partnered with the Muransky family to create the Satur-Day of Caring. Together, we engaged our volunteers and delivered supplies to homes for eight consecutive weeks. We started with 40 volunteers and 140 homes referred to us by partner agencies. We now have 100 volunteers packing food and delivering it to 300 homes once a month.
When schools closed, our Success After 6 staff worked hard to convert to a virtual after-school program. The staff delivered food directly to homes as well as providing academic support and enrichment opportunities via Zoom.
Similarly, our Success By 6 provided virtual programming this summer at 10 schools. Despite job loss, shut downs and massive uncertainty, Mahoning Valley donors once again stepped up in a big way. Even though we were forced to cancel our in-person fundraisers, we came up with several alternatives that allowed us to raise significant dollars. With these combined efforts, our campaign is on track to exceed $3 million.