United Way

About 300 United Way volunteers packed 50,000 dry food meals and 350 backpacks of school supplies Tuesday morning during the organization's Day of Action and campaign kickoff. (Submitted photo)

Volunteers worked Tuesday at United Way’s Day of Action, packing up 50,000 dry food meals that went to local charities for distribution.

About 300 volunteers assembled at the Oxford Civic Center gymnasium that morning, according to Shannon Jenkins, chief executive of United Way of East Central Alabama, which works in Calhoun, Cleburne and Randolph counties. Jenkins jokingly called the volunteers the “yellow shirt army” Wednesday morning while sharing a photo of the group, decked out in yellow Day of Action shirts, black pants and hairnets, buzzing around tables in the gym like food service yellow jackets. 

Tuesday’s volunteer day also served as the organization’s annual campaign kickoff, something Jenkins said the local United Way has done the last few years.

“We really wanted to do something that impacted the community on the kickoff,” Jenkins said. 

The organization’s goal is to raise $935,000 over the next year, which it will use to help charity organizations such as 2nd Chance, in Anniston, and Interfaith Ministries of Calhoun County, among several others. 

In 2018 the agency operated at a loss of about $94,000, according to a year-end annual report available on its website. It spent about $1 million and brought in revenue just over $920,000. Nearly $900,000 of the outgoing money went into local programs, with the rest, around $140,000, going toward administrative costs and fundraising expenses. 

That same year, according to the document, the organization’s local 211 call center — which gives callers help connecting with local services and outreach groups — took 4,721 calls; around 1,500 low-income residents got free help filing their tax returns, and more than 35,000 free books were delivered to over 3,000 children and families to promote early childhood literacy. 

Meanwhile, the agency recently received recognition from a charity watchdog group, Charity Navigator, which rates charities based on their financial health, accountability and transparency in their spending. 

East Alabama’s United Way has earned a four-out-of-four rating on the site for the last few years, Jenkins said, but this year Charity Navigator gave the agency a perfect score, putting it on a list of charities that made full marks out of 100 possible points

“It’s a really cool thing to be recognized by an evaluator like that, and it is a little bit different,” Jenkins said. “We don’t submit anything to them; they pull our 900 and audits and things like that, and go to our website to make sure we’re in compliance with our financial reporting and privacy policies.” 

United Way of Central Alabama, based in Birmingham, also received the distinction from the site. Jenkins said United Way organizations are autonomous, but they do meet once per quarter as the United Ways of Alabama and often share best practices, which could explain the shared honor. 

Jenkins said his agency has worked hard to be transparent about its spending. 

“We want our donors to believe in the work that we do,” he said, “and want our donors to know those dollars are doing what they’re doing in the community and making an impact.” 

Meals crafted Tuesday had a definite impact on the agencies where they were donated, such as Community Enabler Developer in Anniston, according to its director. 

Maudine Holloway, founder of Community Enabler Developer, said Wednesday that its share of the food — about 25 boxes filled with rice and macaroni-and-cheese meals — will be a big help for her group. Community Enabler doles out aid that ranges from food donations to help paying utility bills, and runs a thrift shop where residents can stretch their money further on furniture and clothing than they might elsewhere.

Because the meals are comprised of dry food goods, they’re easy and safe to store until they’re ready to eat.

Right now the food budget is cleared out, Holloway said, but the United Way donation will help pad out the pantry until the budget regrows. 

“It came in at a time when we really need it,” she said.

Interested donors can pitch in with United Way of East Central Alabama at uweca.org, and make donations to Community Enabler Developer through Paypal on its website at unityenabler.org

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.