Although they start out somewhat depressing — involving hunger, suffering, abuse and other community challenges —the United Way of Central Missouri's stories change and become uplifting, said Missy Dunn, 2019 campaign co-chair.
"No, no, no, they're not depressing — they're incredible," Dunn told volunteers and supporters during the organization's annual victory celebration breakfast Thursday. "They may start out a little heartbreaking. They always, so quickly, turn to heartwarming."
It's because leaders and staff at 28 partner agencies the organization supports — like the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson City, Capital City Court Appointed Special Advocates, The Special Learning Center, Council for Drug Free Youth, Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption, American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter and so many others — jump into action when called and take care of people in our community, she said.
The stories generated in those agencies and shared with generous donors, Dunn announced, helped the United Way set a fundraising campaign record in 2019 — $2,220,170 — far outpacing its goal of $2.1 million.
Mid-Missouri's generosity went well beyond the annual campaign's success. The United Way also received $367,203 in donations for its Disaster Recovery Fund, set up the day after a tornado raked through part of East Jefferson City.
Dunn shared the news during the organization's annual campaign victory celebration Thursday morning at Missouri Farm Bureau in Jefferson City. The event was attended by local and state business and government leaders.
"Every single one of you in this room — you're hearing these stories — and you immediately jump into action. And you're taking care of the people in our community," Dunn said. "That's what life is about. That's why I see rainbows and unicorns."
Like Dunn, folks gathered for the breakfast choose to be positive and recognize generosity and kindness around them, she said.
Following the May 22 tornado that struck Jefferson City and widespread flooding that lasted all summer, the community saw challenges that likely exceeded any it had before, according to Chip Webb, United Way board chairman and Ameren Missouri Central Division director.
His role with the power company provided Webb with a vantage point from which he observed the damage the tornado caused in eastern Jefferson City.
"I spent a lot of time in the devastated areas of Jefferson City, supporting Ameren crews as they worked to restore power," Webb said. "As I stood in the carnage, I saw a community uniting for a common cause. I saw people from around Central Missouri coming to help their neighbors. I saw first responders from around the region come and support their brothers and sisters. I saw businesses providing supplies, food and shelter.
"I saw a community rise from the destruction and begin the task of rebuilding."
Coupled with the tornado, rising water and widespread flooding caused millions of dollars in additional damage in the community, Webb remembered.
The United Way of Central Missouri was in the thick of the response, he said. United Way staff worked tirelessly to provide support and manage the volunteers and donated resources.
The organization set up a Disaster Recovery Fund immediately after the tornado to accommodate donations that immediately began pouring in and intended to help victims, according to Ann Bax, president of the local United Way organization.
All the United Way did was put the fund on the organization's website, Bax said, and let people know if they wanted to donate to the recovery effort, that might be a place to start.
The community donated $367,203 to the fund over the next five months.
"One hundred percent of donations go to survivors. That's important to our staff and board," Bax said.
Data shows the twin disasters affected about 600 families in Central Missouri, she continued. About 50 percent of those affected will need further assistance.
Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri is conducting "case management," helping connect people with resources and help survivors may not even know are available.
Catholic Charities has disaster-response experience and has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is vetting cases, and it will bring the cases (anonymously) to the area Long Term Disaster Recovery Committee.
That committee's governing board will distribute funds.
"A lot of people are still going through the FEMA process," Bax said.
They may have had initial denials but are appealing the denials.
Campaign organizers caution the figure for the money raised through the campaign is a projection because many donations will continue to arrive over the coming weeks, according to campaign co-chair Doug Otto.
The number includes projections for campaigns that have not been completed and even some that have not started, he said.
Regardless, the money brought in will do important work in the community.
"Imagine how much harder our recovery from these disasters would be if (the partner agencies) didn't exist," Otto said. "Our community would not have the resiliency it has shown, and we would not have the safety net of services that are critical in keeping our community healthy and strong."