Throughout February, United Way of Greater New Haven’s annual Neighbor to Neighbor campaign will raise funds to provide food, housing and other services for the Elm City’s homeless and hungry.
To reach this year’s goal of $300,000 by the end of the month, United Way will raise money through athletic events at multiple local universities such as Yale, Quinnipiac University and the University of New Haven, as well as through other events around the community and direct volunteer solicitation through the organization’s social media platforms. At the end of the process, local nonprofits will be able to apply for grants and the funds will then be distributed to the nonprofits so they can directly help the homeless. Last week, the campaign began with volunteers distributing free scarves to those in need in New Haven and surrounding cities.
“[The scarves] are really there as a reminder that even small things can make a real difference if we do them together, and can really help our community,” said Jennifer Heath, president and CEO of United Way of Greater New Haven.
According to Heath, the Neighbor to Neighbor campaign began in 2009 to help those affected by the economic recession. She said that while many people’s circumstances have improved since the downturn, some in the community are still in need.
Although Neighbor to Neighbor has invested $3.5 million in the past eight years to provide food, housing and medical services to those in need, economic data shows that 45 percent of people living in New Haven county are below the poverty line, and one in three residents in New Haven do not have enough money to buy food, according to the organization’s website.
“We’re continuing to do the Neighbor to Neighbor campaign because we want to raise people’s awareness that this need still exists, and we want to then give them concrete ways they can be involved and make a difference,” Heath said.
She added that at the end of the month, United Way will recruit and train volunteers to review local nonprofits’ grant applications, and that funds will be distributed right after decisions are made in March.
Although different nonprofits apply for grants every year, Heath said, there is some consistency from year to year in several core organizations. Peter Schaller, communications director at United Way of Greater New Haven, said these organizations include the local nonprofits Columbus House and Liberty Community Services which deal with housing services, as well as the food pantry FISH of Greater New Haven.
According to Heath, donors from local athletic events supply much of the funding, adding that sporting events draw many people in the winter. Schaller said that sporting events are a new feature this year, and that private donors have supplied most of the funding in the past. Barbara Chesler, a volunteer involved in the athletic events part of the campaign, said she contacted each of the five universities that partnered with Neighbor to Neighbor and is helping to make the campaign more visible this year.
“This is a way to get people to think about those that are less fortunate,” Chesler said.
She added that there will be 15 games starting this upcoming weekend between the five universities. Attendees will be able to learn more about the campaign at ticket booths, as well as purchase tickets that say “Help end hunger and homelessness in Greater New Haven,” “love your neighbor,” and contain instructions for making a donation.
In addition, Chesler said, there is an ongoing “text to give” campaign in which people can text “N2N” to the number 38470. Donors will then be able to donate $3, $25, $100 or a custom amount.
So far, Chesler said, people have responded positively to the “text to give” campaign and its posts on social media. She said the campaign will likely see an uptick in donations during the week of Valentine’s Day.
United Way of Greater New Haven has a donor base of over 20,000 people, Chesler added, and “everybody feels that we’re off to a good start.”
“The fact of the matter is that every gift matters. Three dollars pays for a meal, so it really does make a difference,” Heath said.
Schaller agreed, and added that he encourages New Haven residents to make a donation.
United Way of Greater New Haven was founded in 1919 as the Community Chest of Greater New Haven.
Correction, Feb. 10: An earlier version of this article misidentified FISH of Greater New Haven as a housing services non-profit.