As we prepare for the promise a new year brings, it’s important to reflect on the many ways our community worked together during the last 12 months to provide opportunities for all people in our region to live up to their full potential. As the 2021 Chair of the Board of Directors for United Way of the Plains, I have never been prouder of our team for developing innovative ways to help our neighbors and enhance our impact, despite the lingering effects of the pandemic.
At the beginning of the year, the team created our first mini-grant program to help alleviate food insecurity from pandemic-related job loss by supporting 21 food pantries across 15 ZIP codes in five counties. United Way staff also secured 273,000 masks for students and staff members at USD 259 Title I schools to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. United Way partnerships with Delta Dental through our Community Benefit Plan and SingleCare for prescription discounts provided considerable savings for the uninsured and underinsured in their time of need.
Helping our teachers and kids fight learning loss during the pandemic was a challenge the team embraced. By raising more than $32,000 through the #Fight4Literacy initiative, books were secured for students and preschoolers across the region. In February, more than 1,000 books with a DEI component were distributed to 15 daycare providers along with 300 parent guides. And nearly 12,000 preschool children received brand new books every month to help them develop a love of reading through the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program.
A record-breaking $7.5 million was returned to local individuals through the free tax preparation program run by United Way. These refunds came back faster than the second round of stimulus checks and helped bolster families while shoring up our local economy.
Nonprofits throughout the region lowered overhead expenses and funneled more resources to client services and programs by using United Way’s Give Items of Value (GIV) Warehouse. Nearly 200 nonprofits shopped for free and took home over $1 million in goods to support their causes.
Coordination and Feedback
To build better connections and strengthen partnerships, a series of open houses were initiated for the nonprofit community to learn more about the ongoing transformation of United Way’s annual community investment process. A new blog was launched, a community conditions report was produced, and a 2020 annual impact report was published.
In striving to be a more relevant and effective asset to the community, the board and staff worked to invest financial resources with our partners more often throughout the year. This resulted in new and timely assistance, like helping HumanKind Ministries complete its Studios intermediary housing project, supporting Empower in the north end, hosting our inaugural Impact on the Plains competition to grant dollars to innovative nonprofits, and funding Share the Season with the Salvation Army and the Wichita Eagle so more people were helped over the holidays.
In closing, I am grateful for the partners, volunteers, board members, donors and staff who have collaborated on these innovative initiatives in 2021. As Jodi Noah takes the reins as our next board chair, the organization is set to do even more in 2022 for the people we serve by leveraging the wonderful foundation of work accomplished in 2021 through a variety of partnerships and collaborations.
To live better, we must live united.