Successful 2020 Campaign Sets Stage for United Way’s Future Efforts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When the staff for the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley met in the spring, they projected a $2.5 million campaign. With the onset of the pandemic, the expectations of the campaign’s leadership was dampened.

But on Wednesday, those concerns proved to be unfounded, as President Bob Hannon announced the United Way had its second-best annual campaign in its 101-year history, raising $3,389,482.

The loss of its biggest fundraising events, which brought in $250,000 in 2019, were offset by the work the United Way did in the community that raised awareness of the organization.

“Food distributions, partnering with agencies, grocery store gift cards, calling the schools we support to see who needs help with food,” Hannon said. “I think [it was] because of the work we did during the pandemic.”

Kevin Helmick, president and CEO of Farmers National Bank and chairman of the United Way campaign, was a part of that staff meeting that set the original campaign goal. By February, the United Way already began planning alternate activities and fundraising methods to deal with COVID-19.

“There were a couple events we knew we had to make up for,” Helmick said. “I think the focus was we knew we weren’t going to get all that at once. So how can you diversify? Hopefully it strengthens the campaigns for years to come.”

The Mahoning County Commissioners assisted by providing $325,000 in Cares Act Funding. The money provided an opportunity to help the hungry in the Youngstown area.

United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley President Bob Hannon announced the organization raised nearly $3.4 million in its 2020 annual campaign.

The United Way pivoted from spending significant resources on afterschool programs to assisting those impacted by COVID-19. In April, the United Way started the Satur-Day of Caring, which brought food to those who couldn’t leave their homes for health reasons.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley and other food resources also partnered with the United Way to tackle hunger throughout the year.

“It’s really satisfying, but I think it’s really a testament to the Mahoning Valley that, one, believe in the United Way, but two, are willing to take money out of their paycheck that they work hard for every week to support their neighbors and friends in the Mahoning Valley,” Hannon said.

COVID-19 reshaped the ways the United Way helped in the community. Hannon said he expects some of the changes to become the norm after the pandemic.

The United Way will continue its Satur-Day of Caring, but it will be held once per month and serve 300 to 350 recipients. He also said the campaigns might not rely on as many face-to-face events as in the past.

“What’s the community need? [We] assess the needs of the community and where can the United Way make the most impact to help the most vulnerable people,” he said. “I think it will be a different United Way a year from now, hopefully when COVID diminishes, than what we looked like before the pandemic last year.”

The United Way also took time to build on their current location on Watt Street in Youngstown. The organization privately raised approximately $600,000 to build a 3,000-square foot conference room for board meetings, training sessions and other events.

Kevin Helmick, chairman of the United Way’s 2020 annual campaign, said the efforts of last year will change how the organization fundraises and delivers services.

Hannon was excited for the money that was raised and for the new addition to the United Way. But he said one of the most exciting aspects to come from 2020 was the significant increase in young volunteers.

Throughout the year, volunteers from local high schools and Youngstown State University assisted with events such as the Satur-Day of Caring and holiday food drives.

“We now have more high school and college volunteers. We need to continue to grow that,” Hannon said. “One, they’re young and strong and they can do the physical work, but those young volunteers will be the next generation of leaders.”

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.