For the past year, United Way of Bucks County has been laser focused on responding to the needs of locals during COVID-19. As the demand for food, shelter and education skyrocketed in 2020, the nonprofit, along with its partner organizations, pivoted to help countless individuals and families.
All parties worked to overcome adversity during those unprecedented times. Now, with a light at the end of the tunnel as pandemic restrictions ease, United Way is looking back with pride on all that was accomplished.
A virtual “Celebration of Resiliency” was recently held in place of its annual breakfast and awards ceremony. Hundreds of volunteers, advocates and donors watched the free, live streamed event, which highlighted numerous initiatives across the county.
“We are so excited to share the incredible things that community support has made possible over the past year,” said Marissa Christie, United Way of Bucks County president and CEO. “So many people have come together to help those who are struggling. This is our opportunity to thank Bucks County and show people exactly how their gifts make a difference.”
Jane Vidoni, president and CEO of United Way partner Penn Community Bank, discussed the Bucks County COVID-19 Recovery Fund. Jointly launched by the two organizations, the fund provided tens of thousands of dollars to area businesses and nonprofits.
“We are all connected. It may not always feel that way, particularly when we are physically apart, but it is true. That is why our entire community is better off when we help others succeed,” she said. “We all have a stake in building strong, healthy and prosperous communities. When we are united for the greater good, we can create better life for all.”
In partnership with the Bucks County Opportunity Council and St. Mary Medical Center, with funding from Penn Community Bank, United Way opened the doors to its Bristol-based HELP Center just in time to aid locals during the pandemic. Clients from Ivins Outreach Center, Bucks County Association for the Blind and others praised it for being a “safe place” to receive essentials.
Between October and December, 492 households visited the HELP Center. In 2020, home goods, furnishings, PPE, cleaning supplies and other items totaling $1,26 million reached families in the county.
“It has been critical in our community at a difficult time,” said Christie.
Board member Paul Bencivengo brought attention to United Way’s hunger fighting efforts, including Bucks Knocks Out Hunger, which collects food and donations for pantries and senior homes; and Fresh Connect, the free mobile farmers market in Bristol, Ottsville and Warminster. There is also a new program that delivers fresh produce to seniors who are unable to get outside.
Last year, attendance at Fresh Connect increased by 300 percent, with 10,339 households served. Bencivengo, president and COO of Visit Bucks County, recently stopped by one of the locations, where he saw hundreds of cars lined up.
“It was a powerful reminder of how much we still need to do,” he said. “Nobody in Bucks County should wonder whether or not they are going to eat today.”
Bencivengo was the recipient of the Kelton Service Award, which recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution over the past year to the goals of United Way and its mission in the community.
His fellow board member Catherine McElroy received the Paul Sauerbry Award, given annually to a volunteer who, over an extended period of time, has demonstrated commitment to the community through innovative leadership.
McElroy reflected on United Way’s work to help low- and moderate-income families struggling to afford education, especially for younger children.
“Ninety percent of a child’s brain capacity develops by the age of 5. The window to ensure our kids are wired for success is short,” she said, adding that the average annual cost of early education is $12,000 per child.
In 2020, United Way invested $2,024,736 in Pre-K education and distributed 1,461 books to Pre-K children and their families. The goal was to ensure equal access to quality education for all.
“We don’t want anyone’s child to grow up in a world where we can predict their socioeconomic outcome based on race or by their ZIP code,” McElroy said. “We can do better.”
According to Christie, 2020 was all about response and recovery. This year, United Way is helping Bucks County not only rebuild, but come out stronger than ever.
“I don’t want things to go back to normal. Our normal just wasn’t working for too many people here in Bucks County. We believe we can do better. We are ready to fight for education, for the financial stability, and for the health of every single person in our community,” said Christie. “That requires viewing all of our work through an equity lens. Together, we’re going to ensure that change happens in Bucks County for good.”
Visit uwbucks.org or call 215-949-1660 for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com