‘Tis the season: Christmas is time to help local charities

Published 12:13 am Sunday, November 30, 2014

The United Way of the Miss-Lou helps many organizations including, from left, the Natchez-Adams Council on Aging, the Natchez Football Falcons Youth Club, above, and Catholic Charities. (The Natchez Democrat)

The United Way of the Miss-Lou helps many organizations including, from left, the Natchez-Adams Council on Aging, the Natchez Football Falcons Youth Club, above, and Catholic Charities. (The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — The need to give back to those less fortunate in the community is a year-round task for a number of agencies and organizations in the Miss-Lou.

But giving during the holiday season is just as important for one local organization that in turn helps 13 agencies in the community.

The United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou supports 13 local agencies with the goal of providing a central agency that individuals and businesses can support that then provides funding for a variety of worthy causes.

Email newsletter signup

Director Tammy Prince said the holiday season is one that often brings out the generous side of area residents, which she hopes to see again this year.

“The importance of giving now is more significant than ever, because we get phone calls every day from these groups who are helping people who don’t have anything,” Prince said. “We want to make sure we can do everything we can to help those in need, but that takes people giving to happen.”

The United Way’s effort is one of many ongoing, philanthropic endeavors that local volunteers and generous residents do to impact the Miss-Lou in a positive way.

Beginning Monday, The Natchez Democrat will highlight the needs and services of one local non-profit agency per day leading up to Christmas. Donations of money, supplies and time are welcomed at every agency, and many rely on help from the community during this season of wishes to sustain their work year-round.

The United Way hosts a variety of fundraising events throughout the year, such as the annual jambalaya cook-off, but the primary source of funding for comes from voluntary employee contributions through payroll deductions.

Prince said she’s always looking out for companies in the Miss-Lou interested in participating in the employee contribution method of donating.

“If each employee of a large company gives $1 a paycheck, that’s huge,” Prince said. “You don’t think of that being a big deal, but when you add it all up, it’s amazing what that can do for the elderly and children in our community.”

The funds raised are allocated to the partnering agencies by a group of volunteers who determine how available funds will be distributed.

The current partnering agencies supported by the United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou are: Adams County 4-H; Adams County CASA; Adams County Red Cross; Catholic Charities (emergency assistance and counseling); Catholic Charities — COPE; Guardian Sexual Assault Center; Guardian Shelter for Battered Families; Natchez-Adams Council on Aging; Natchez-Adams County Habitat for Humanity; Natchez Football Falcons Youth Club; T.M. Jennings Little League Baseball; CENLA Foster Grandparent Program; and Concordia Council on Aging.

In 2013, the United Way collected more than $125,000 that will assist the organization’s partnering agencies.

Prince said those collections go a long way to agencies when governmental deficits are mounting and funds at the federal, state and local level are being severely reduced.

One example of a former United Way agency that ultimately closed because of lack of funding is the Sunshine Shelter.

After more than 10 years as an emergency safe haven for abused children, the Sunshine Shelter closed its doors in March 2012.

The Sunshine Shelter temporarily housed children for up to 45 days who had been taken into protective custody by DHS because of allegations of abuse or neglect. The shelter served 13 counties in Mississippi and Vidalia.

Major funding cuts and a decline in children sent to the shelter forced the shelter’s board of directors to close.

In 2010, the shelter lost a $46,000 Victims of Crime Act assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Public Safety, and another $26,000 in federal funding was cut from shelter funding in 2011.

Officials said at the time they hoped the closing wouldn’t be permanent, but board member Scott McLemore said the organization is now “completely shut down.”

“When we lost the main funding for the shelter, it just kind of put everything in a spiral, and the whole thing wouldn’t work without that funding,” McLemore said. “When you take away the base, which for us was that majority funding, it’s very hard to keep it going.”

McLemore said the community continued supporting the organization throughout the several grants it lost, but the lack of funding was ultimately too much.

“We had great support from the community, but losing that funding just made it too difficult to stay alive,” McLemore said. “We’re completely shut down now, and we’re in the process of dissolving what’s left of the organization.”

The Sunshine Shelter was an agency of the United Way before Prince’s time at the helm, but the director said the organization closing represents the need for continued community support and donations.

That’s one reason the United Way lifted its “blackout period” in 2012, which previously prevented its partnering agencies from hosting any fundraisers during the United Way’s annual fundraising campaign.

Partnering agencies were prevented from conducting their own individual fundraising events as a way of attempting to cut down on duplicating fundraisers for the same agencies.

But some agencies were forced to dissolve their partnerships with the United Way to be able to host fundraising events to keep their programs afloat.

Prince said the decision to remove the “blackout period” was beneficial for all its partnering agencies in the long run.

“It ultimately helps our agencies because that way they aren’t limited to when they can do for fundraisers or other events,” Prince said. “I think it’s been a positive thing for everyone.”

Prince said she’ll begin in December the process of closing down this year’s fundraising campaign, but asked Miss-Lou residents to keep the United Way — and it’s 13 partnering agencies — in mind this holiday season.

“We take money anytime,” Prince said, laughing. “It’s always better to give than to receive, and I think people in our community need to understand that it doesn’t matter what they want to give — 50 cents or $1 — we will put it to use by helping people in our community who have nothing.”

For more information or to get involved, contact Prince at tprince@unitedwaymisslou.org, 601-442-1081 or visit unitedwaymisslou.org.