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Margaret Ann O’Neal, president of United Way of Central West Virginia, speaks to Putnam Rotary on Sept. 7.

Editors note: The following is a synopsis of the Putnam County Rotary Club meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 7. The Putnam County Rotary Club meets at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays as announced at Area 34 in Hurricane. For more information, visit www.putnamrotary.com.

“Our job at United Way is about service to the community,” Margaret Ann O’Neal told Putnam Rotarians this morning. “Like Rotary, service above self is what we believe in, too.

“When the pandemic hit, we decided that we were going to work through it,” she said. “COVID shut down many fundraisers, and the income was lost. At the beginning, we didn’t realize that it was going to affect so many people.

“I’m not sure that we’re out of the woods yet. Fundraisers are still being canceled. Nonprofits are still understaffed and still concerned.

“We stayed in the office. We masked up and gloved up. And we delivered food to dozens and dozens of places in our five-county area — many places that I had never seen before.

“We really made a commitment,” she said, “and I’m super-glad that we did, because I know that we saved some lives. And we really made sure that some people made it through a rough time — including some seniors who were struggling to get medicine or food when we were all saying, ‘Don’t come out of your building; you have to be safe; don’t touch anybody.’

“We worked with groups like Family Care Health Centers (https://familycarewv.org) to schedule vaccines. We scheduled some 10 to 12 thousand appointments out of our office.”

O’Neal is president of United Way of Central West Virginia, which serves Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Logan and Clay counties. “Next year, we may be adding Braxton County to our footprint,” she said. “We’ve been talking to some Braxton people, and we’re already serving them on the outside.”

“This is the time of year when we always start our workplace program,” O’Neal told her Putnam audience. “So how were we going to have a kickoff campaign last July when employees were not in their offices? How were we going to tell our story? And how were we going to tell about the work that we do and about the services supported through United Way?

“As it turned out, it was super-hard. Some workplaces were doing everything virtually. They did it super well and we didn’t see any decline in support.

“And others really struggled with how to support a campaign when employees were working virtually at home.

“Those campaigns suffered a lot.

“And then other organizations said, ‘We’re not doing anything this year. Our staff is stressed. We don’t want to ask them for money, even if it is only a dollar a paycheck.’

“In last August and September, we didn’t know how the year would turn out. But with our 33 partner organizations, we were able to move forward and honor all the commitments we had already made.

“We had to talk with people. We had to learn how to raise money virtually. We had to learn how to work Zoom and Microsoft Teams. We tried to work as close to in-person as we could. We tried to send materials ahead so you would have it in hand when we were in the Zoom.

“And it made a huge difference. We were still able to tell our story and share the work of United Way.

“We are able to help with utility and rental assistance, through the WV Mountaineer Rental Assistance Program (https://apply.wvmrap.com). But application must be made online, and many people needing assistance don’t have computers.

“The normal donation to United Way is a dollar a month. The big bucks don’t come from very many people and they don’t come very often. Our lifeblood is people just like us who do $25 or $30 a year. And look at the number of lives that you touched if you did that last year — 67,093.

“I don’t know where you can give $25 or $30 a year and know that you’re going to impact that number in the five counties that we serve — right here.

“Every member of our staff and our board is a donor. They feel the same commitment. They know that we’re in this for the long term.”

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