United Way is still a strong agency

Published 12:10 am Friday, June 6, 2008

Let me set the record straight about various misconceptions some readers have about the United Way and the Food Pantry.

The excellent article by Mary Hood on June 3 outlined the current status of the Food Pantry run by the United Way. The following is in response to comments posted on The Democrat Web site.

A year and a half ago, the Food Pantry was in dire need of funds and organization. It was transferred from the Ministerial Alliance to the United Way as a temporary measure to keep it alive. Now the Food Pantry is in fine shape and is running well. We feed over 500 families a month. It’s time for a direct service agency to take it over.

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The United Way was not set up to run programs. It is an umbrella agency that collects funds for other agencies to use in the delivery of human services. In fact, funds that were used to shore up the Food Pantry were coming out of allocations due next year to the 22 “certified” United Way agencies. It was a drain on our limited resources.

Not only is the Food Pantry viable, so is the United Way. We are strong and functioning well, thanks to our dedicated volunteer board members (some of the most respected leaders in the Miss-Lou) and an outstanding staff.

By the way, the United Way currently has (since Jan. 7) one full-time professional administrative assistant. She has kept the agency running well. We have no outstanding debts and, most importantly, all of our 22 agencies have received funds that were approved by the allocations committee.

Now, a comment in response to a statement online about our employees and their “pocket books getting bigger and bigger.” First, our administrative assistant could double her salary at another outfit but she’s committed to the United Way and its mission: to help individuals and families to stand on their own and to tap the caring strength of the Miss-Lou.

Second, we have three part-timers in the Food Pantry and they make a little over minimum wage. They too are committed and work hard to ensure that over 500 families receive their approved food allotment.

One more thing, as a retired association executive, I devote over 10 volunteer hours a week as chairman of the United Way.

Our past chair, a retired educator, puts in about 20 volunteer hours a week assisting our administrative assistant in the conduct of United Way affairs.

Futhermore, we can add more hours put in by other volunteer board members. All free!

I welcome the public to visit our new offices at 206 N. Canal on Tuesday, June 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. to ask questions about the United Way, in general and the Food Pantry, in particular. I look forward to meeting you in person.

Mike Gemmell is the Chairman of the United Way board.