United Way campaign nears public launch

Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department’s Linda Jumer and Brad Ward work during a mass casualty drill in June at the Community Church at Tellico Village. TVVFD is one of several partner agencies to receive United Way of Loudon County funding.

United Way of Loudon County will soon ramp up public efforts to raise money for local charitable causes.

The nonprofit is expected to begin its annual campaign in November, with hopes of raising $350,000. While the target is $100,000 lower than last year’s goal, the 2020 campaign collected $351,219.

“We’ve thought about sticking with that 350 with hopes of exceeding it, but with realistically knowing it’s another strange year,” Darcy Welch, local United Way executive director, said. “That’s where we’re going to go for 350 but really aim higher than that. We want to at least achieve that 350.”

Welch said a number of virtual campaigns are expected this year, and United Way board members are getting creative on how to best reach the community.

“Traditionally, we’ve kind of kicked it in higher gear with our businesses out of necessity,” Welch said. “There’s a lot of employees now that are working virtually and that transition is not just going to end with COVID. I think a lot of people are now doing that hybrid kind of work, so we are working with companies to have more of an online presence.”

The approach includes reaching out through emails, bumping up social media presence and updating the nonprofit’s website, which was given a new look last year for the first time since 2007.

Welch hopes the website will create more visibility and provide better opportunities to donate.

“Also, we’re going to have a couple of fundraisers the board is putting together that is kind of more of a virtual fundraiser,” she said. “One of them is going to be in November ... it’s for LoCo for Pets, it’s kind of a pet contest, but they have some other ideas. We’re going to try to engage the public as best we can.”

More info will be coming, but Welch said LoCo for Pets will have a website and allow votes for a favorite pet entrant.

“You can nominate your pet, a friend’s pet and it’s just a pet contest,” she said. “The United Way has been helping support during the pandemic not just our folks but also people. There’s a new initiative where they have been raising money to help support folks give food to their pets — they’re pinching pennies for their own food, they may not be able to feed their pets. It’s just a fun pet contest.”

If the fundraiser goes well, Welch said the pet contest could return.

This year’s campaign “unofficial theme” is Living United Loudon, Welch said.

“This year has just been kind of try to come together and to unite,” she said. “United Way is an organization of the community, so we live by our volunteers. I’m the only employee. It’s always been extremely volunteer and community driven. We wanted to fold that into the campaign that it’s really about uniting for Loudon.”

Cheri Parrish, local United Way board chairwoman, knows raising funds this year will be as difficult as 2020.

“Honestly, the way the economy’s going right now, prices in every area just continue to go up,” Parrish said. “With that in mind going into the holiday season, with things so messed up with the supply chain in the United States, I think people are not going to be as willing to let go of some of that donation money because of inflation and possibly a recession on the horizon at some point so it will affect us to a degree.”

The top three contributors in 2020 were Tellico Village, Tate & Lyle and Kimberly-Clark.

This year the Village will be without United Way champion and contributor Richard Kolasheski, who died in September.

“He did so much,” Welch said. “... I mean he was with United Way for over 20 years. So is Andy Ewing, who is still with us. But he did videos, he did articles, he did everything, so it’s huge. He pretty much ran the Tellico Village campaign, but Judy Gibbons helped and she’s still very much so an active part of it, and Andy’s kind of trying to fill the gaps where Dick left off, and I’m trying to help, too, with some of the PR stuff that he did until we kind of find some people to fill his shoes, which is going to be hard.”

A goal for the Village campaign has not been set. Residents contributed $79,972 last year.

“He’s going to be missed a lot,” Judy Gibbons, Village campaign treasurer, said. “He was our biggest voice. He did most of the marketing behind it. He got our voice out there. He was well-respected, well-liked and we will all miss him.”

Welch said United Way will continue collecting until April, when funds will be awarded to partner agencies. Donations are welcomed year-round.

Tellico Village Volunteer Fire Department is a partner agency that has utilized funds in previous years for rescue equipment.

“Back in early August those tools paid off dearly on a motor vehicle accident on (Highway) 444 when we had two people entrapped in a car and we were able to have two teams working side by side to extract the people,” Jerry Dougherty, TVVFD fire chief, said.

For more information about United Way, visit www.unitedwayloudoncounty.org. Donations are accepted online, by phone at 865-582-4082 or by check at P.O. Box 135, Lenoir City, TN 37771.

“I think with the partnerships that we’ve had in the past, those agencies have been able to reach out to us through grants to be able to get services or materials or equipment that they couldn’t afford otherwise,” Parrish said. “I think there’s a lot of people that traditionally have given to United Way that, even after they retired or whenever, it means a whole lot for them to be able to give. With United Way it reaches a broad spectrum of agencies within our community, but at the same time if there’s an individual that wants to give their money through United Way to a particular agency or nonprofit they can do that as well.”