Campus community rallies to support United Way

As a dean at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Andrew Karolyi appreciates the engaged-learning opportunities the United Way of Tompkins County (UWTC) offers his college’s students. As a community member, he’s grateful for its positive impact on the region. And as a donor, he supports its commitment to help working families.

“My wife and I give because the major pillars on which the United Way program is built represent what we believe are the most important priorities for our community: health, education and financial stability. These programs help so many income-constrained working families meet the challenges they face just making it to the next day,” said Karolyi, the Harold Bierman, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Management and deputy dean and dean of academic affairs at SC Johnson.

“I love to see Cornell students stepping up to support the local community in ways that are affirming to us, as Cornell faculty and staff, about the core values of caring that we are imparting to them,” said Karolyi, also a UWTC board member. “We value so much what the United Way is and what it does to make our community better for so many families who need support.”

A month since the launch of the Cornell United Way campaign – the campus drive to support UWTC by raising funds for community members in need – Cornell has raised nearly $231,000, around 33% of the $700,000 goal. Last year, Cornell faculty and staff donated $608,137, 29% of the countywide campaign total.

“Cornell faculty, staff and students are essential partners in this effort,” President Martha E. Pollack said in a Nov. 12 letter to the Cornell community. “This year, more than ever, our neighbors are counting on us.”

Thanks to a special measure in the federal CARES Act – the coronavirus relief bill – taxpayers this year can deduct charitable donations of up to $300 even if they take the standard deduction and don’t itemize their returns.

“We have to remember that this pandemic is continuing and people are still struggling in our community.”

Beth Kunz

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.

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people going to food pantries and relying on food pantries to feed their families due to the pandemic,” said Beth Kunz, associate director of Cornell Engineering admissions and a member of the Cornell United Way campaign steering committee.

Due to the pandemic, Tompkins County statistics show a 128% increase in the amount of food requested from local pantries, a 345% increase in requests for baby supplies, including formula and a 580% increase in childcare scholarships for qualifying families.

“I give because I feel very strongly about helping with food insecurity – it’s very surprising how many members of our community don’t know where their next meal will come from, or rely on the school district to provide two of three meals a day to their children,” Kunz said. “We have to remember that this pandemic is continuing and people are still struggling in our community. So it’s even more important now to be helping and supporting these food pantries to help our colleagues, our neighbors and our friends, particularly as the winter comes.”

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Abby Butler