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story.lead_photo.caption Longtime Salvation Army bell ringer Elizabeth Long, center, received the Linda E. McAnany Award on Friday during the United Way annual meeting for her dedication to the agency, having raised more than $180,000 during her 28 years volunteering. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Surprises were in store for a few folks Friday at the United Way of Central Missouri's annual meeting and recognition luncheon.

The organization named Elizabeth Long as its volunteer of the year. Long became a Salvation Army bell ringer outside Schulte's Fresh Foods in Jefferson City 28 years ago, when she started ringing the bell six days a week during the Christmas season. At 80, she has scaled back the amount of time she spends ringing the bell, now only doing it four days a week from 2-7:30 p.m. Over the years, she has raised more than $180,000 for The Salvation Army. For her work, she received the Linda E. McAnany Award.

John Kehoe, president of Osage Ambulances, received the Live United Award for his service to the local United Way. He served more than 20 years as a board member and built participation among employees in the United Way's fundraising campaign at Osage Ambulances to 98 percent.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe accepted the award for his brother, who was out of town.

"Once the United Way culture gets into the business, it's very self-sustaining," Mike Kehoe said. The state senator said the automobile business he owned in Jefferson City, which was later sold and is now Joe Machens Capital City Ford, continues to run a successful fundraising campaign.

"It really is infectious," he said.

Donna Scheidt, director of Little Explorers Discovery Center, received the Ruth C. Meloy Award for distinguished service. The nonprofit center's mission is to provide quality early childhood education services in a caring environment. The center serves primarily low- and middle-income working families. It also provides parenting classes. Scheidt is passionate about serving her clients at the center, United Way President Ann Bax said.

The United Way plays an integral role in keeping families fed in Central Missouri, Scheidt said. Simply having the organization supporting the center keeps her from being discouraged.

After the luncheon, Scheidt said she's tried to help the working poor for about 35 years.

"The United Way changes so many lives," Scheidt said. "(The working poor) struggle to stay off welfare. Without the United Way's help, that would be impossible."

Through the efforts of more than 1,100 volunteers, United Way of Central Missouri's annual fundraising campaign drummed up more than $2.14 million in donations in 2017. It serves more than 80,000 people annually. 2017's Disney-themed campaign had set a goal of raising $1.875 million, outgoing Board Chairman Mike Hoelscher said.

The annual meeting for the nonprofit organization that pools efforts in fundraising and support in resolving pressing community issues was held at Capitol Plaza Hotel. More than 400 people attended.

Data released at the event show that with the help of the United Way, local organizations delivered more than 53,500 meals to elderly people; gave 841 pairs of shoes to low-income children; provided mental health care to 543 people; and provided affordable medical, dental and vision services to 10,200 patients last year.

The organization also helped support education and financial stability programs for local agencies' clients. Money donated through the United Way helped agencies distribute almost 32 million pounds of food through the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri and helped 7,322 people in crisis receive food, shelter, clothing and rental and utility assistance through The Salvation Army.

During an invocation to start the event, the Rev. Beau Underwood, of First Christian Church in Jefferson City, thanked God for reminding those gathered of the call to give their lives away so "others may find new life and great hope."

Bax and Hoelscher said the luncheon was a celebration of the work done by volunteers and thousands of people who chose to give to the United Way through their workplaces' campaigns.

"Thank you for using your passion, your ideas, your expertise and resources to transform our community," Bax said. "Thank you for not being afraid to roll up your sleeves and to fight the good fight."

During Friday's event, the organization elected 34 members of the governing body to three-year terms and reappointed 10 to three-year terms. Eight new members of the board of directors were elected to three-year terms, and five were reappointed to three-year terms.

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