By Jen Jabas, director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties

The holidays are a time for families and friends to come together to celebrate, create memories, and look forward to the year ahead. It is also a time where community comes together in support of one another and we should celebrate the many memories we have made!

At United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties, we are celebrating the generosity of our community through the United Way Holiday Gift Distribution. Over 800 children were provided with gifts purchased by businesses and individuals in the community who wanted to create memories for children and their families over the holidays. I can only imagine the joy on each child’s face as the wrapping paper is removed from the gift chosen specifically for them, and the memories that will be made in family time spent together!

This is just one example of how we have joined hands to help one another. When individuals and families are faced with concerns for their health and changes to income that would affect their ability to make ends meet, the community responds.

Basic needs are met…

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As hunger continues to grow, funding has been received each month to support the increasing needs through the United Way Food Drops and Backpack Attack programs.

  • Registrations at United Way Food Drops have nearly doubled and distribution continues into the evening hours to ensure that every vehicle is loaded with bags of food month after month. Over 400 households received groceries to feed their families across Douglas and Pope counties this past month.

  • Backpack Attack bags continue to be packed by community partners and are distributed through local schools to provide over 450 students with supplementary food each week during the school year.

The number of people able to gather together to help has been reduced due to COVID-19 guidelines. Volunteers continue to come in shifts of smaller groups wearing masks and social distancing to provide food support and ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. Partnerships with food shelves in both Douglas and Pope counties allow us to maximize our impact.

Housing

When families have struggled to afford rent and mortgage payments, United Way’s 211 resource line has served as the principal way for those seeking housing assistance to get screened for the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program. United Way grant recipients, community partners and local non-profits have provided assistance maintaining housing during the pandemic and local businesses have offered household kits with essential items to families.

Education

As COVID-19 cases have increased in our community, children have participated in various learning models and continued to learn with the support and guidance of their dedicated teachers. Schools are committed to the future of our youth and their ongoing education through both in person and virtual/digital means. At United Way, we have supported families by providing school supplies to reduce expenses and warm winter wear for much needed outdoor activity and exercise. Additionally education grants have been provided to local agencies to ensure student success.

Emotional wellbeing

COVID-19 has had an impact on both work and life for all ages. Mental health professionals, employers, educators, leaders and community members have recognized the importance of mental well-being and promoted conversation and practices for positivity and self-care. United Way has offered a virtual well-being session with mental health partners to provide resources for well-being in the workplace and continues to provide grants to support the mental health of children, youth and adults.

Celebrations

2020 may have been a year filled with challenges however each of those challenges was confronted by creativity, collaboration and connectivity. Businesses found creative ways to reimagine their work and support their employees. Community members offered help to their friends and coworkers. People came together to shop local and support small businesses and nonprofits. Nonprofits partnered and offered programs to assist individuals faced with hardships. These memories demonstrate the kindness of a stranger, the generosity of a neighbor and the heart of a community that cares for one another!

A time to celebrate, give thanks

The way we come together will be different this year than in previous years. Celebrations will be small and intimate and larger gatherings will happen virtually. Regardless of how we celebrate, we will make memories, just as we have done this past year. I am thankful for those of you that I know and those I have yet to meet. I look forward to how we will continue to join hands to create hope for the New Year and build a brighter future in 2021 together!

United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Douglas and Pope Counties. For more information, contact our office at 320-834-7800 or visit www.uwdp.org.

Jen Jabas is the director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.