2020 winds down in our community and at the United Way

Hello, good friends. First and foremost, I would like to wish each of you a wonderful holiday season. As we near the end of 2020, I think it makes sense to reflect for a moment on the year which we are soon to put in our rear-view mirror. I think it is fair to say that this has been a different year than any of us expected. In any other year I would be out in the community, in person, talking about the needs of our community and what we can do together to improve the lives and livelihoods of all our friends and neighbors in Greater Nashua. As you might know, for 90 years now, your United Way has focused on moving the needle on the important issues which we face. These issues always include the health, education, and financial stability of every person. Traditionally we have done this thorough a broad network of partnerships which I like to call the safety net. These partnerships translate into investments in programs run by top notch local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Marguerites Place, the Dental Connection, the Adult Learning Center, Family Promise, the Front Door Agency, Home Health and Hospice, Bridges Domestic and Sexual Violence, Gateways Community Services, and others.

In any other year, I would tell you that our process of assessing community needs and investing in local programs which make a difference is reason enough to give to United Way, and represents the single most effective way in which any of us can make a difference in our community.

However, this is not any other year. This is the pandemic year. This the Covid year. During this year I have had to ask questions like “How much PPE can we get you for your organization?”, “What volunteers do you need to tutor distance learners, provide school lunches, or help with vaccine distribution?”, and “Do you need a laptop or WIFI hotspot to enable remote learning?” These are unusual questions… pandemic year questions.

Therefore, I would like to share with you a glimpse into what we have done together this year to make a difference. For starters, of course we still maintained all our vital community partnerships. From the beginning of the pandemic, we continued our vital community investments, never missing a beat with any grant payments to our existing safety net partners, at a time when all of us were faced with an economic downturn. We knew that our partners needed to pivot how they delivered services to our most vulnerable neighbors and United Way continued to fund every single one of their programs without missing a beat. What is more, very early on in March we established an emergency COVID fund which ultimately made over $50K in supplemental emergency grands to over 40 different local nonprofits struggling to stay afloat. These partners needed our support for everything from making payroll to purchasing personal protective equipment, and through the generosity of our donors we were there for them. Some of these supports went to our more traditional partners, but other grants went to organizations such as Revive Recovery, the Plus Company, and Opportunity Networks which were trying to survive during these very difficult times.

Beyond the dollars and cents, United Way was able to forge broad partnerships with civic and nonprofit organizations to provide emergency food support to children and families during the pandemic. In fact, through these partnerships, which included the Nashua School District, Nashua Transportation System, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, United Way volunteers were able to distribute over 100,000 school breakfasts and lunches as well serving over 7,000 families with critically needed emergency food supports. Beyond that, we established a volunteer driven online grocery shopping system so that families, and homebound and or quarantined seniors could get the food they needed regardless of their ability to pay. To this day, these programs continue to provide a vital lifeline for numerous individuals.

We also realized as the pandemic wore on that there would be a critical need for our nonprofit partners as well as the public at large to have easy and ready access to those most important of items: the face mask and hand sanitizer. Working with FEMA as well as private industry, United Way of Greater Nashua was able to secure and distribute over 150,000 facemasks and thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer. We have not only distributed these items in large quantities to all manner of organization such as the Boys and Girls Club of the Souhegan Valley and the YMCA, but we have also had volunteers at the Malls, in Downtown locations, at community events, and even on school busses distributing these critical items in order that in our community each one of us has the ability to keep ourselves and others safe. And over the past few weeks we have been serving small business such a hair salons, restaurants, and day cares with the same supplies to help them to stay safe in these difficult times.

Beyond this and going into the school year we realized that thousands of local school children need supports beyond which our school districts can provide. In any given year, our schools do a great job with our kids, but this year the schools and school children needed a little help. To provide support, we began acquiring and distributing internet mobile hot spots which have already given over 600 low-income children access to online learning which they did not otherwise have. We have refurbished and distributed hundreds of laptop computers and Chromebooks to families needing technology to do remote classes. I would like to give a big shout out to our corporate partners Amazon, Gettinge, and Skillsoft for some of these donations and to our unbelievable tech volunteers, including those from MakeIt Labs, for making all this possible. And we built a “school supplies pantry” so that teachers and guidance counselors can get their kids the items they need but cannot afford… like pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and additional technology like headphones and webcams. More recently we have partnered with local youth organizations like the Y, the Adult Learning Center, Boys and Girls Club, The Youth Council, and 21st Century after school programs to make available online and in person tutoring to help bridge learning gaps caused by remote learning shutdowns. And most recently, we are now building a remote learning classroom at United Way to support children who do not have classrooms to go to but are struggling to learn online.

None of this is what we planned on doing in 2020. But all of it was necessary.

So at this time, this year, I would ask that you consider making a contribution to your United Way, not only to continue maintaining the incredible partnerships and programs we have always had, but beyond that to provide support for the difficult work that will no doubt face us in the year ahead. You can give online on our website by clicking on the donate now button, or through payroll by utilizing our pledge form. You can make a onetime gift or an ongoing payroll gift, and I can assure you that whatever size donation you make that we will value your gift and make sure it goes to the greatest possible good in our community. If you choose to give elsewhere, that is great, too. Keep in mind that the CARES Act has an additional $300 Tax Deduction Provision for non-itemizers which you can take advantage of this year. We are all deeply appreciative for your past and future support.

Lastly, if you are one of the over 600 Untied Way volunteers who has logged over 12,000 hours of volunteering with us since March, we are so grateful to you for what you have done. You have truly been the stuff that Nashua is made of. As we end 2020, let me thank each of you, wish you happy and healthy holidays, and reaffirm – with good reason – my strong belief that Great things happen when we LIVE UNITED.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.