The local United Way is struggling to bring in donations this year.
Because of this, Director Nichole Mader said, it has about six months worth of operational budget left. After those six months, unless its financial situation improves, the United Way of Junction City/Geary County will be forced to cease operations entirely.
That six month budget includes the money needed to pay the local agencies it serves what it has promised them and United Way’s operational expenses, she said, and nothing more.
“It reflects how the community is doing,” Mader said. “When you have your homeless shelter that is unable to take in homeless people and you have other nonprofits — you have your United Way — that is unable to secure funding, it just shows the state and the situation that the community is in.”
According to Mader, the nonprofit is entirely locally sustained. It is not funded by United Way Worldwide and does not generally receive grants or outside funding, she said.
“We are 100 percent dependent on local funding,” she said.
Typically, contributions from local businesses keep the United Way running. Voluntary payroll deduction is traditionally a large source of funding for the United Way, but Mader said this year these opportunities had decreased due to changes in ownership and management and several local businesses. She said these businesses, which she did not name, had in previous years provided a significant number of donations.
In terms of donations, United Way is at $85,000 where at this time last year, the nonprofit was at about $110,000.
This constitutes both payments and pledges, according to Mader — not all of the pledged donations are in-hand. The nonprofit has received $38,000 in direct payment, she said. If every payment comes through that has been pledged at this time, she said, the United Way can stay open until roughly October of this year.
“So as of right now with what has been paid and what has been pledged, we only have about six months of operating (costs),” Mader said.
Mader said she had applied for grants from outside sources and even received one from Kroger which has helped support a meal kit program.
However, while these funds could help support the United Way’s programs, grants often can’t be used for operational expenses such as staff, utility bills, and supplies.
Mader said she recently sent out a letter asking the community for help.
“We want to be able to continue to provide the services that are needed as long as absolutely possible,” she said. “But unfortunately, we can’t do that with no income — with no funding.”
Services the local United Way provides the community include Stuff the Bus, the adopt a backpack program, the VITA income tax filing program, Day of Caring, and the SEAL program which provides meals and recipes to low income families. The nonprofit had been hoping to add Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library — a service which distributes free books to young children — to its services in the future.
“If we’re not here, that goes away,” Mader said.
The local agencies United Way supports will lose a total of about $75,000 in funding altogether, she said, if United Way closes its doors.
“There’s so many places and so many individuals that are going to be impacted by that,” Mader said. “I can tell you that just from research and just from speaking to other communities, when a local United Way closes, the community really hurts. They really feel it.”
It’s a bit of a catch 22 to ask for donations in a community where many people are already spread thin, she said. Donations don’t need to be large, she said, but even a small donation could be hard to swing for a family on a shoestring budget.
“I don’t like asking people — especially if I know they’re struggling,” Mader said. “I know times are hard. I know the community is struggling. I know people are struggling. And me personally, if I know somebody is — if that last $5 is the difference of buying milk for their children or $5 to United Way, I’m not a good person if I ask for that $5.”
Safety, family and community come first in any case, Mader said. She said she hates to think of taking from those her nonprofit is meant to help.
Instead, she encourages those who can’t offer money to think about volunteering or otherwise spreading the word for the local United Way.
“All I ask is that people keep and open mind,” Mader said. “The negative stories get passed around like wildfire. Let’s give positive messages the same fuel, the same wildfire.”
United Way has no intentions of closing down unless it must, she said.
“We’re not giving up. We’re going to fight tooth and nail,” Mader said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to secure funding so that we can keep our doors open. But we can’t do it alone. We need the community.”
For more information, people are welcome to call the local United Way office at 785-238-2117 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.