United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou closing Nov. 1

Published 12:54 am Wednesday, October 4, 2017


NATCHEZ — The United Way of the Miss-Lou will dissolve before the end of this year, chair and treasurer Deanne Tanksley said Tuesday.

The local branch, which was founded in 1954, will stop taking donations on Nov. 1.

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Tanksley said the 14 partnering agencies in Natchez-Adams County which rely on United Way will likely be transferred to Vicksburg or Alexandria, La., branches of the national organization.

“Our local agencies will have a better shot in a bigger pool if we get placed in a larger regional area,” she said. “They’ll get what they need if they’re part of a larger area. That’s our hope.”

The shutdown comes just two years after United Way closed its physical property in 2015.

Though the office closed and the paid staff was dismissed, Tanksley said the organization continued to lease the office space and some necessary equipment to keep the organization running.

Dismissing the paid personnel who ran the office, Tanksley said, was supposed to cut down on expenses and leave more money for the partnered agencies.

Two years later, however, she said the organization still faces insurmountable problems.

“We’ve not necessarily had a problem with money; we have money in the bank,” Tanksley said. “It’s getting someone to run those day-to-day operations and still have the money to partner.”

Tanksley, who has a full-time position as an auditor with Gillon Group, has also served as chairman of the United Way board and treasurer, despite never having sought a leadership position.

Tanksley said she has also had trouble finding new businesses that allow her to present United Way’s payroll deduction plan to their employees.

Mike Gemmell, a former chairman of United Way, said their offers to come present a donation plan to employees at major companies in Natchez are often turned down.

“Of the 10 biggest employers, only one supports United Way,” Gemmell said. “Think about that. (Natchez) Markets are the only one.”

Without bringing new supporters, Tanksley said United Way would have stagnated.

“The community support is there; it’s just not at the level that we used to have or that we need to continue for the long run,” she said.

Last summer Tanksley held a forum for the community to discuss United Way’s future.

Tanksley said she had a simple question: Does Natchez want this organization in town?

“We couldn’t make that decision without community support,” she said. “As it happens sometimes, there were several people who came forward and said, ‘I’d be happy to help.’ Then when you ask, everybody gets busy.”

As summer 2017 came to a close, Tanksley said she realized she was in the same position she had been last year.

She sent an email to United Way’s board members.

“I told them, ‘I think we just need to shut it down and say, ‘We tried,’’” she said. “Three people said,  ‘I’m sorry, but I guess you’re right.’ We didn’t get a response from others. That told me what I needed to know.”

Tanksley began making preparations to shut United Way of the Miss-Lou down in late summer, she said.

After she stops receiving donations on Nov. 1 and sells or donates the remaining items that belong to the organization, Tanksley said she will divide whatever funds they have between their partnered agencies.

“We’re going to allocate everything to our partnering agencies,” Tanksley said. “When I close those bank accounts, every dollar we have raised here will stay right here.”

Tanksley said she hopes the Natchez-Adams County area belonging to a larger branch of United Way will benefit the charities who have come to depend on her support.

“It was not easy. I’ve wrestled with this for two years,” she said.  “At some point, even I have to say, ‘I’ve done what I can do. I can only do so much.’”