The United Way of Delaware County’s successes in 2015 included local efforts against homelessness, human trafficking and hunger, with something as simple as a haircut providing help.
For homelessness, the United Way was part of a discussion about sheltering independent single men during a cold winter. The result is a warming center at Zion United Church of Christ that can be used for up to a dozen men when the overnight temperature goes below 20 degrees. (Women and families can be sheltered at Family Promise and in Marion.)
“Anytime there’s a problem like that, we’re interested in trying to solve that with multiple people,” said local United Way president Brandon Feller. “It wouldn’t be a good solution if it were just United Way or the city trying to solve the problem of homelessness. There were a bunch of great organizations at the table. Everybody had a niche. That’s what made this effort successful.”
Another United Way initiative, the Delaware County Against Human Trafficking Coalition, made an impact during and after a high-profile massage parlor raid last January in Powell. Coalition volunteers were among those who provided shelter and interpreters for the women who were rescued.
“Law enforcement will tell you because of the trust that had built up, they were more open in sharing their stories, which aided the prosecution of the case,” Feller said. Two Chinese sisters were sent to prison in connection with the case.
In 2016, the coalition will provide cosmetologists with mandatory training on how to recognize victims of human trafficking.
The United Way offers planning, funding and connecting the dots for social services in the county, Feller said. An example of that is the Delaware County Hunger Alliance, which was created in 2012.
“In 2012, there was a half-million pounds of food coming into Delaware County from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank,” he said. “At the end of 2014, we were at over 1.1 million pounds as a result of all the partners getting together.”
Last year, a new funding model was presented to the alliance members.
“We put the money on the table and said, you guys tells us what the priorities are,” Feller said. “You would expect there to be a made grab, but agencies were sticking up for each other’s programs, which brings about a deeper level of collaboration.”
Feller said the United Way will start taking a similar approach with other programs.
Also last year, United Way and its Women’s Leadership Network helped Turning Point purchase property in the city for a domestic violence shelter. However, $2 million is needed to renovate the existing buildings.
“We typically don’t get that involved with a capital campaign for an agency, but it’s such a necessary gap in our community if we didn’t jump in and help out, it may not get done,” Feller said.
Imagination Library, a program founded by singer Dolly Parton, is also under the United Way umbrella. It provides an age-appropriate book to children monthly from birth until they’re 5 years old. To date, more than 87 million books have been delivered around the world.
“For $25 a year, we can get books to kids that otherwise wouldn’t have access to books in their home,” Feller said. “We get families to sign up at no cost to them — 650 kids are getting those books now, and the goal is to hit 1,000 kids by the end of next year.”
In speaking with school districts in the county, Feller said the United Way discovered there was a need for school supplies. The Supplies for Scholars program, which will mark its third year in 2016, served 600 kids with 1,500 backpacks and $48,000 in other supplies.
Included in the Supplies for Scholars were haircuts. Feller said that last year, one boy who had particularly long hair requested a buzz cut. When asked about the last time he had a haircut, he replied that it was at the previous year’s Supplies for Scholars.
“We feel good about the work that’s going on,” Feller said. “But just because we see success in an area, we have to keep all the plates spinning. We have other issues to tackle.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.