If fall is in the air, it must be time for the annual Kenai Peninsula United Way fund-raising campaign.
At Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon, local United Way director Evy Gebhardt introduced the chair of this year's campaign, Bob Favretto.
Favretto said he initially told United Way board president Ginger Steffy "no" when she asked him to head up this year's fund-raising effort.
"It's tough to say 'no' to Ginger Steffy," he said. "I told her I was on the board of eight nonprofit organizations and owned three businesses, but she said, 'I don't want anyone political this year, and you're not political.'"
Favretto read from the statement he and Gebhardt wrote for the United Way's campaign flyer. He talked of how the 27 agencies the United Way supports offer "our friends and neighbors a welcome hand in times of need, or an opportunity to develop the priceless attribute called pride."
He invited the audience to join him at the campaign kickoff on Sept. 14 at the Kenai Senior Center.
"I want to thank you ahead of time for what what's going to happen in the coming months," he said.
Gebhardt then talked of her experiences visiting the agencies United Way serves.
"Part of my job is to go to agencies and see what's going on in their environment," she said.
She said she realized how important the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank and its soup kitchen is to people when she saw a small child become excited when seeing loaves of bread on the shelf.
Gebhardt also had a number of member agency heads tell Kenai's business leaders how important the United Way is to their organizations.
Suzanne Little, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula, said her agency has tripled in size over the past two years and now serves 400 children in Homer, all the kids in Seldovia and at small clubs at five schools in Soldotna.
"We charge $20 a year for kids to come in every day after school," Little said. "Obviously it's designed to lose money, but that little bit can help welfare moms get back to work.
"What we do at the Boys and Girls Club has a real impact on our community," she added. "The United Way is incredibly invaluable."
Women's Resource and Crisis Center executive director Evelina Giobbe said half the clients her agency serves are children, and the United Way support is an investment in their future.
"Everyone who donates to the United Way shares our commitment to end domestic violence," she said.
Nearly half of the people served by the food bank are children, too, according to executive director Sandy Dallmann.
"We serve 700 people a month with emergency food," she said. "And 290 of them are children."
She related a story of two young children who visited the food bank around lunch time, asking for something to eat. She said she wondered about them, but did not ask, as a person's reasons for coming there are their own, she said. After they had eaten seconds, the children rode around to the side of the building to the loading dock and offered as payment a loaf of bread their mother had given them.
"The United Way provides a quarter of our funds to operate," Dallmann said. "Without the United Way, we would have to shut down."
Hot lunches for home-bound seniors are made possible by United Way support of the Kenai Senior Center, said director Kelly Kelso.
"I would've liked to have the people United Way helps up here to talk about this, but they can't, they're home-bound," she said.
She said the lunches, as well as rides to doctor's appointments, are just some of the things United Way support provides the senior center.
"If you really understood what United Way is all about, I know you'd want to be part of it," she said.
During the luncheon, Favretto, owner of Kenai Chrysler Center, announced he was going to donate the use of a brand new Chrysler minivan to WRCC, because he knew the organization needed transportation. He presented the keys after lunch in front of Paradisos, where the lunch was held.
The goal for last year's campaign was $450,000 and was exceeded by $10,000. Gebhardt said the goal for this year's fund-raiser is $475,000.
The kickoff event at the Kenai Senior Center will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 14.
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