A look inside our annual United Way giving campaign

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS) is proud to have long-standing partnerships with the United Way of Greater Topeka, United Way of the Plains, Salina Area United Way and United Way of Reno County. This week, we are hosting our annual United Way employee giving campaign. For more than 50 years, it has been and continues to be BCBSKS’ largest employee giving campaign. The campaigns are held in the Topeka, Wichita, Salina and Hutchinson offices.

This year’s United Way campaign looks vastly different than it has in the past for BCBSKS as well as for these United Way partners. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted how these four United Ways conduct their day-to-day operations and the partner agencies they work with. The need for this year’s campaign is more crucial than ever.

To learn a little more about the impact of COVID-19 on our Kansas communities, the United Ways’ day-to-day operations and their long-standing partnership with BCBSKS, each United Way is featured with a glimpse inside those topic areas below.

United Way of Greater Topeka (UWGT)

Angel Romero, Vice President of Resource Development

Impacts of COVID-19

Our Community Impact staff and volunteers are spending much of their time helping grantees adjust their impact grants for the effects of COVID-19. Our education grantees are especially affected, and we are offering flexibility and support whenever we can to help them meet the needs of students and families. Our Financial Stability partners are expecting more people that need budgeting and financial counseling in the near future as they navigate the effects and aftershocks of COVID-related unemployment.

We recently marked six months of gathering nonprofit partners on our Tuesday Zoom calls. Since March, we’ve been working with some of the most recognizable partners in the area–Community Action, Let’s Help, Valeo, Salvation Army, Topeka Rescue Mission, Harvesters, and more–to solve problems, help each other leverage resources, and check in on each other. Each week, 30 to 40 partners are keeping on top of what our community needs, whether it’s food, rent and utility assistance, childcare, or a dozen other things. It’s working so well that we plan to continue collaborating this way even after the pandemic is no longer our primary concern.

COVID-19 has exacerbated many of the challenges that we and our partners work to address in our community. Prior to the pandemic, one in eight adults and one in seven children in our community were considered food insecure. Today, one in six adults and one in four children now find themselves wondering where they will find their next meal. Rent and utility assistance dollars, always in high demand, are now even more needed as families face job loss and the inability to pay their bills. Before COVID-19, many families were just one paycheck away from disaster. Now that emergency is here, debt is mounting for them with no end in sight.

For too many kids in our community, virtual school may mean no school for a period of time, as families struggled to access the resources to make remote learning possible. Doing school from home also means that many students have lost access to trusted adults who can help them navigate outside challenges to learning, including personal trauma.

Partnership with BCBSKS

For decades, UWGT and BCBSKS have partnered to fight for their community. BCBSKS’ support goes well beyond just a workplace campaign. BCBSKS employees serve on our board, committees and investment panels, and as volunteers for Nancy Perry Day of Caring. United Way is a volunteer-led organization and BCBSKS employees play a pivotal role in that leadership. Blue Cross was one of the first companies to partner with UWGT on year-round engagement efforts. Thanks to this work, UWGT has assisted with internal employee leadership classes and facilitated additional opportunities for employees to grow in their knowledge of United Way and our work. In 2018, BCBSKS and United Way’s Young Leaders Society partnered to construct and open a new Born Learning Trail at the Deer Creek Community Center- a project that will have a lasting impact in the community.

This year’s campaign

Our community faces tough challenges on the road to recovery from COVID-19. However, our years of experience as a convening organization have prepared us for this work. We know that we can tackle big challenges when we Live United with partners like BCBSKS. It will take the continued collaboration and innovation of our partner agencies to make progress for our community. It will also take dollars, large and small, from across our community to power this recovery. Now more than ever, your dollars are critically important to provide the resources needed to not only recover in the short term, but also to create long-term stability. To that end, our campaign goal this year is $2.2 million. We’ve seen how our community has already stepped up, and we’re confident that you will help us not only reach, but also exceed, that goal. You can keep track of our progress all year and learn more about the campaign by visiting UnitedWayTopeka.org/YourImpact.

United Way of the Plains

Kristin Bogner, Relationship Manager

Impacts of COVID-19

Because COVID-19 has so greatly impacted the greater Wichita area, United Way of the Plains’ community impact professionals have stepped up to help people who are struggling. Our 2-1-1 social services hotline continues to serve as the official verbal screening agent for the Sedgwick County Health Department, and Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple declared 2-1-1 the “one-stop shop” for all COVID-19 questions. The 2-1-1 call volume has been higher than normal, and operators have answered nearly 50,000 COVID-related calls. In addition, United Way of the Plains has held help centers for the tens of thousands of laid off workers in our community, providing resources for financial assistance, food assistance, rent and utility assistance and more. We have seen several non-profits we serve change their operations due to social distancing policies, and not as many in-person volunteer activities have been available for those wanting to give their time. This year will be a difficult year for all area non-profits to raise funds due to the economic fallout and the lack of in-person contact with donors.

Sedgwick County has the highest percentage of unemployment in the state of Kansas. The aircraft industry has been hit especially hard by the pandemic and other, plane-related issues. Thousands of people in our community need financial and mental health assistance. It will take time for the greater Wichita area to rebuild its economy.

Partnership with BCBSKS

At United Way of the Plains, we are extremely proud of our partnership with BCBSKS. BCBSKS has been a consistent and generous supporter of the work United Way of the Plains does in the areas of income, health and education. We appreciate the company’s obvious dedication to corporate social responsibility, and we are honored to be a part of that through our funded programs and initiatives. Dollars donated from BCBSKS employees and from the Foundation help citizens in need. One special way BCBSKS has supported United Way of the Plains is by donating to our Give Items of Value Warehouse, where any non-profit in our area can shop one time per month for free to obtain needed supplies. BCBSKS employees also have volunteered their time at the warehouse.

This year’s campaign

Our focus this year at United Way of the Plains is sharing our disaster relief efforts and community support during a crisis. Every time a communitywide need has arisen since our inception in Wichita as Community Chest nearly 100 years ago, United Way of the Plains has been there to lift up those in need. Without United Way of the Plains, many citizens in our area would be without hope. In 2019, United Way of the Plains’ funded programs and initiatives helped more than 130,000 people, which is equivalent to about one-fifth of the greater Wichita area population. This year, because so many of our donors are without an income, we are going to struggle to meet our fundraising goals. We need help more than ever to help people. Please give.

United Way of Reno County

Lisa Gleason, Executive Director

Impacts of COVID-19

COVID-19 has drastically affected our day to day operations as well as those nonprofits that we support. United Way is built to tackle disasters so from the beginning we started responding to the pandemic trying to help local businesses who were struggling as well as individuals who were being affected by COVID-19 with loss of job, furloughed or reduction in hours. We started the Rally Reno initiative with two other partners which had twofold benefits. We asked the public to purchase gift cards from local businesses who were closed or had reduced hours during the worst shut down period. Any funds raised in gift card sales, up to $150,000, was matched by donors to create an unmet needs fund at United Way. This fund was created to help individuals who had been laid off, furloughed or had a reduction in hours. We have currently helped over 150 families with rent, utilities and more so that they can get stable during this very unstable time. We helped organize food drives and delivered personal protective equipment (PPE). We also helped those who are quarantined get supplies. It has taken up a large portion of our work since March. We are also trying to run our fundraising campaign at the same time. In part, we have had to adapt to those businesses who are not back in their office by doing virtual campaigns. The need is greater than ever before as so many of our nonprofits had to suspend services or alter how they operate and halted their own fundraisers. They are reliant on us more than ever. We can see that the pandemic has shined a large spotlight on areas that were already struggling such as crisis entry and intervention, childcare and broadband internet access. Long term if these are not addressed, our lower income/low resourced families will struggle even more, and the gap will grow larger of those that need more support and assistance.

Partnership with BCBSKS

BCBSKS has been an amazing partner in our work here in Reno County. The funds raised from your organization have helped us reach 3,000 kids age 0 to 5 get a free book every month to help us improve literacy and kindergarten readiness in our community. The funds raised have also helped us support 24 nonprofit agencies. From the Early Education Center, to helping New Beginnings, and to helping those that are homeless find resources to helping the elderly with Meals on Wheels get a nutritious meal delivered every day and so much more! The funds the employees raise also help us continue to respond to disasters, such as the pandemic. BCBSKS gifts to United Way impacts so many different areas of Reno County and we cannot thank BCBSKS enough!!

This year’s campaign

The need is greater than ever. We have more and more families in our community struggling and needing support. More and more of our nonprofits are struggling. We fundraise for 24 nonprofits as well as for United Way’s community impact work. Now more than ever, we need help and our community needs hope. United Way surrounds our community’s most critical problems- and we fight. We fight for the health, education and financial stability of every person here in Reno County and we can’t do that without your support. We are really proud of the fact that 98% of all dollars raised here stays here and truly makes an impact where it needs it most. We fund proven agencies and programs that show us they are changing and improving lives. The pandemic has rocked our worlds and we must be able to raise the funds to help us, help our community rebound from this terrible time. Please help us continue to make a difference right here in our community.

Salina Area United Way

Claire Mullen, Executive Director

Impact of COVID-19

Non-profits are having an increase need for services they provide which results in additional costs that they did not budget for. They need extra dollars which is where the United Way comes into play. It is crucial for us to raise funds this campaign season so we can help these non-profits more than ever. They do not have the time or staff to worry about where funds are going to come from. This is exactly what the United Way is for so that we can raise those funds, so they do not have to.

People are going to be struggling to come back from all the effects of COVID. Community Partners are going to be working long hours to serve people with little time to focus on anything else.

This year’s campaign

This campaign is more crucial than ever because community partners have increased the amount of services they are providing but do not have increase in income. This is where United Way comes in- we need to raise additional funds to make up dollars that were not budgeted by these agencies and take this burden of where funds are going to come from.

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