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Cornell United Way drive kicks off; needs greater due to virus

The Cornell United Way campaign – the campus drive to support the United Way of Tompkins County by raising funds for local community members in need – launches Oct. 15 and runs through December.

Cornell’s goal of raising $700,000 is especially relevant in light of impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Cornell faculty and staff members donated $608,137, providing 29% of United Way of Tompkins County’s (UWTC) campaign total. This year, to date, Cornell United Way has already raised $88,741.

A volunteer packs boxes of donations for Tompkins County food pantries.

The annual UWTC campaign provides grants and funding to more than 50 local nonprofits and more than 85 programs each year, including direct support to households through several programs. Typically, up to 20% of Tompkins County residents benefit from a United Way-funded program, though that rate will likely increase this year, according to campaign organizers.

“This year’s pandemic has exposed some of the cracks in our infrastructure, and it’s more important than ever that those of us in a position to help do our parts,” said Cornell United Way campaign chair Pat Wynn, assistant vice president for student and campus life. “By donating through the Cornell United Way campaign, we have the opportunity to help dozens of organizations in and around Tompkins County to do their great work in the community.”

The UWTC campaign has set an overall goal of $1.5 million this year, though total donations are expected to exceed that amount, said Jean McPheeters, a longtime community advocate and UWTC campaign co-chair, along with Dominick Recckio, Tompkins County communications director.

This year, Cornell is promoting workplace tax-deductible donations through a new secure online platform, E-Pledge, while the traditional method of giving through a pledge card is also available.

Also, if lump sum donations are too taxing on pocketbooks, a payroll deduction option can provide a convenient way to spread giving out over time and possibly give more, if so desired.

For the last 23 years, UWTC has held a Day of Caring, a kickoff to an annual food drive in the weeks prior to the larger campaign launch. This year, the food drive kickoff was lengthened to a “Week of Caring,” Sept. 21-25, to address higher demand from COVID-19’s impact.

Due to the pandemic, Tompkins County statistics reveal a 128% increase in the amount of food being requested from local pantries and a 345% increase in requests for baby supplies including formula.

Over the week, drop-off locations at Cornell and elsewhere collected 2,573 pounds of total donations, which included 10 pounds of school supplies, 45 pounds of pet food, 180 pounds of essential household items and 2,338 pounds of food. All donations were distributed to 12 local pantries.

“Your generous donations during last month’s Week of Caring were an inspiring kickoff to this year’s Cornell United Way campaign,” Wynn said. “We’re approaching the 100th anniversary of improving the lives of our neighbors in Tompkins County and beyond, and I can already see that, as our theme for this year’s campaign says, ‘we were built for this’.”

Working with donors, community volunteers and funded partners, UWTC supports individuals in their efforts to live self-sufficient, productive lives and helps build a stronger, healthier community for Tompkins County. All individual donations go to services and programming in the areas of health, financial stability and education.

To volunteer to help the Cornell United Way campaign in the coming weeks, email campus United Way coordinator Susan Riley.

Media Contact

Abby Butler