At a time when economic struggles have caused many people to cut back on their charitable giving, people throughout Effingham County dug deep — to help those who are in even greater need.
The United Way of Effingham County raised $343,007 — its largest amount ever — in this year’s fundraising campaign, far exceeding its goal of $302,007.
“That’s one thing about Effingham County — they go above and beyond for people in need,” said campaign vice chair John Kieffer. “Especially with the economy and job security like it is today, it’s amazing that people went above and beyond.”
Dinah King chaired this year’s campaign after serving as vice chair last year. King called the community’s generosity “unbelievable” in topping last year’s total of $313,000.
“Last year I thought, ‘We can’t outdo it,’ and this year we’ve done that,” she said. “You never have enough money to meet all the needs, but to have this much money and be this much above our goal is awesome.”
United Way Effingham Area Director Bonnie Dixon attributed the campaign’s success to the combination of a giving community and a dedicated group of volunteers. The “secret agents” in this year’s “Mission: Possible”-themed campaign made more than a hundred United Way presentations throughout the community, according to Dixon.
“It’s work, but you have to do it,” she said. “We don’t just put up a sign and expect people to bring money. We have to go in and ask.”
The United Way of Effingham County supports 17 non-profit agencies, ranging from America’s Second Harvest Food Bank to Faith Equestrian Therapeutic Center to Big Brothers Big Sisters. The money raised during the Effingham campaign stays locally, Dixon said.
“We are able to share with the community what the money does. We show them where it goes,” Dixon said. “And our administrative fees are nothing, so 100 percent of their donation goes to support a program or service.”
The Effingham County campaign got off to a strong start, thanks to three corporate “pacesetters” that conducted their United Way campaigns prior to the official kickoff. Pledges of $16,853 from Georgia Power, $17,610 from Effingham Health System and $81,000 from Effingham County Schools jump-started the campaign to nearly 40 percent of its goal.
“Our pacesetters led the way for us,” King said.
That momentum continued as campaigns were added this year at Lowe’s of Rincon, Choo-Choo Build-It Mart, CST Coverings and INCO. Also, five campaigns — Effingham Eye Care, Riggs Funeral Home, Effingham County government and the cities of Rincon and Springfield — increased their pledges by more than 50 percent from last year.
Leading the way in donating money and time was Georgia-Pacific. Georgia-Pacific Savannah River Mill employees pledged nearly $178,000, the largest contribution in the plant’s 26-year history.
Brandee Gordon and Justin Sikes of Georgia-Pacific served as “loaned associates” for the campaign, traveling throughout the county to give United Way presentations. Sikes said it taught him a great deal about the needs in the community.
“It was amazing,” Sikes said. “It was truly a humbling experience for me.”
The campaign was dedicated to the memory of community advocate Connie Burns, who died unexpectedly in August at just 43 years old. Burns supported many local causes and had joined the Effingham United Way board in March. At the campaign kickoff in September, Kieffer described Burns as someone who “truly enjoyed every moment of every day.”
Since she had been on the board less than a year, Burns never got to be part of a United Way campaign victory celebration. However, Dixon said Burns was in the front of everyone’s minds as the Effingham leaders joined others from around the area for a luncheon in Savannah to celebrate the United Way of the Coastal Empire surpassing its $8.7 million fundraising goal this year.
“It truly is a victory celebration, and we want to embrace that with laughter and fun,” Dixon said. “We all said we would love to have had Connie at a victory celebration. But we knew that she was having as good a time celebrating as we were.”
United Way funding in Effingham
The following non-profits have programs/services in Effingham County and receive United Way funding:
Savannah Speech and Hearing
The Counseling Center of Union Mission
America’s Second Harvest Food Bank
American Cancer Society
American Red Cross
Big Brothers Big Sisters
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for the Ogeechee Circuit
Coastal Center for Developmental Services
Effingham Family Connection and Communities in Schools
Georgia Legal Services