Give Local to help Hunger Solutions effort
I can almost hear the ticking of the countdown in my head. The march of time to the magic hour of midnight. When the clock strikes midnight on Tuesday, our 24-hour annual adventure will begin. This week is the annual Give Local initiative from the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation. It is a remarkable opportunity for so many non-profits across the Mid-Ohio Valley to not only showcase their agency impact but to garner donor support and reap the benefits of generous matching gifts from area businesses and community philanthropists. For the past four years, our Student United Way organization has commandeered this event and it has become a day that they look forward to all year. The initiative is an online giving model, so the students do what they know best — they take to the social media channels and they spread the message. They create a 24-hour social media war room where the strategy is to engage a high volume of individual donors who will make a contribution to the student’s efforts. They love the competition; they are energized by the fast-paced nature of the event and they embrace the challenge of long hours and marathon efforts. Some of the students stay the entire 24 Horus to help manage the war room; some come in for shorter shifts and saturate their own contact base during their shift. It seems only natural that these teenagers would gravitate to an event of this nature. It has become a social event of sorts and a fun, competitive activity. Yet the drive to be a part of the annual effort is really not tied to what would seem to be the obvious answers. The drive to push this event really lies within the project that they raise the funds on behalf of.
Each year, the monies raised in the Give Local event are committed to the United Way Hunger Solutions Program. The fund supports local feeding programs and food pantries in our area who are best addressing the issue of food insecurity. The Student United Way group consistently and compassionately champions the cause of food insecurity. Ask any of them, and you will hear them launch into a heartfelt dissertation of the 1 in 6 statistic. It is a statistic that they continue to struggle to wrap their heads around. How are there people right here in our community without enough food to eat? It is a statistic that bothers them at the most humane, love your neighbor kind of level. 1 in 6 people in our community faces food insecurity. That means they do not consistently have the nutritious foods necessary for basic, healthy existence. That means that on a nearly daily basis they are making difficult, nearly impossible decisions about what food they can purchase and what food they will have to give u to pay for prescriptions, rent, or other seemingly basic human needs. When the student team began processing the statistic four years ago, and really trying to assimilate what that statistic looked like in their daily lives — they were stunned. Shocked. Unsettled. They talked at length about the fact that in an algebra class with 24 students, 4 of the students didn’t have confidence about where their weekend meals might come from. They realized that the face of hunger was not what they might have had in their mind; they realized that the face of hunger was all around them. They were troubled to realize that it was an invisible crisis surrounding them every day. They were given great pause when they took the thoughts a step further and began to consider that someone in their English class might come from a family where a job loss, medical crisis or domestic disturbance has spiraled a family into crisis. That the student who still seemed “normal”, who still wore the same clothes that they started school in back in August, the student who still laughed at the same jokes, might be facing a food insecurity situation in their home that was new, scary and difficult to talk about. The more the student team processed the community issue, the more determined they became to do two things — raise awareness and make a difference.
What a difference they have made. They have raised more than $35,000. They have become advocates. They see hunger as a battle we can win, and so they march forward, carrying the charge. They are intentional and strategic. They are compassionate…and most off all they are determined. They are determined to make a difference. This group of students warms my heart. They reassure me that our next generation is full of capabilities and energies that may solve the problems that have begun to feel insurmountable. This group centers me. They are amazing. They are inspiring. They think outside any box you try to place around them. They dream big. They ask “why not?” ….and they act. They follow up. They dedicate more than ideas; they roll up the necessary sleeves and they give of their time and their talents.
While they look forward to Give Local every year, I seem to annually approach the date with trepidation. My nearly fifty-year-old self needs sleep. Plain and simple. 24 hours always seems dreadful and daunting. Until it starts. Then each year, as the ticking of the clock draws closer, the hum of the energy fills my ears. For 24 hours, I can feed off of their synergy. For 24 hours I have the opportunity to witness the difference they are determined to make. It has become one of my favorite days of the year. It is Tuesday and while I know my body will scream for sleep, my heart is ready. I am confident that you will see this year’s team make a large path of impact once again. It is humbling to have a front seat to all that unfolds.
If you would like to support their efforts and help raise money for Hunger Solutions in our community, you too can be a part of the impact. Simply go to www.givelocalmov.org on Tuesday May 7 and select United Way. Join our fight; we have a truly special army!
Stacy DeCicco is the executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.