In marking a “celebration of connection,” United Way Elgin Middlesex saw the return of their in-person 3M Harvest Lunch while launching their 2023 Community Campaign on Tuesday.
The event drew hundreds of community members to RBC Place London following a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Day of Mourning for Queen Elizabeth II last year.
Kelly Ziegner, president and CEO of United Way Elgin Middlesex, said that every ticket bought for an attendee meal at the event will also go towards a meal for a neighbour in need.
“2,400 lunches will be distributed out through our network of community-funded agencies,” she said. “Four years seems like a lifetime ago, but you can see the same energy is back. The community has rallied and united to support their friends and neighbours once again.”
Terry Bowman, 3M Canada’s country manufacturing leader, told Global News that the face-to-face aspect of the lunch event is “not just good for the community, but good for the attendees as well.”
“It’s good for them to get re-energized about fundraising,” he said, stressing the importance of volunteerism.
“You can’t beat face-to-face and after four years, it sure is great to be back doing this this way.”
For those who couldn’t attend in-person, Ziegner said that 10 partner agencies will also be using an online-only, “pay-it-forward” model used over the course of the pandemic that delivered over 6,000 meals to those in need through United Way agencies across the region.
Reflecting on the past four years, she said that the non-profit has been grappling through a “perfect storm of macro issues that have affected local communities.”
“First, it was the pandemic, and then the rising cost of living and inflationary pressures that everybody is facing means folks that live with low income or in poverty are really getting hurt badly,” she said.
“They don’t have enough money at the end of the month to get through to pay rent or buy food, so they’re relying on that network of social service agencies to help provide those additional supports.”
In working to combat those “rising and prevalent issues,” Zeigner said that United Way has also committed to invest $6 million through this year’s community campaign to support 52 programs at 40 local agencies working to reduce and prevent poverty, provide basic needs and housing stability for more than 65,000 residents.
Mark Egbedeyi-Emmanuel, 2023 campaign chair and general manager of EPCOR in Aylmer, said that “this is where donor dollars generate maximum impact.”
“Unless you’re driving around with your eyes closed, the need for homes, social services, mental health support, [and] hunger is very transparent,” he told Global News. “I’ve been part of United Way for over 20 years in various areas that I’ve lived in Canada… Campaigns like this shows you what needs to be done, what those needs are, and how United Way is working to dissolve them.”
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Zeigner added that one of the goals with this year’s campaign is for everyone to unite together.
“I would both challenge everybody to give if you can, to volunteer, to advocate for the issues that matter [because] it goes a long way in supporting the health and well-being of our friends and neighbours in our local community.”
“Those issues that are in the community don’t resolve themselves,” Egbedeyi-Emmanuel continued. “We need people to come together, like Kelly [Ziegner] said, unite with us and make sure we can do the right things that can help resolve those problems within the community.”
Going back to Bowman, he encourages other facility leaders to find a way to have fundraising events.
“You’ll find that it boosts your employee engagement and helps the community at the same time,” he said. “Events like this are a kickoff, but it has to be a kickoff and not the finishing line [because] now it’s more important than ever that our fundraising be successful.”
More information about United Way’s 2023 Community Campaign can be found here.
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