Kim Strubberg United Way Executive Director

Days after starting its annual campaign, the Franklin County Area United Way reported Thursday that it had received more than $35,000 in donations from the five pilot companies selected to help kick off this year’s campaign. 

“I am amazed and excited,” said campaign co-chair Mary Shofner. “I had high hopes, and those hopes have been met.”

According to United Way officials, the companies — Canam Steel, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Hodges Badge Co., the Lonedell R-XIV School District and Sullivan Bank — spent weeks prior to the campaign’s official public launch raising funds.

Canam Steel organized a dunk tank and a pie-in-the-face fundraiser, which raised $3,200, and Farmers & Merchants Bank raised $12,409 through events such as candy sales, ice cream sales, “Make a Change” contributions, employee pledges, various flash sales and bingo. 

“They set the tone for the rest of the campaign,” said Franklin County Area United Way Executive Director Kim Strubberg. “Compared to last year when we really didn’t have pilot companies, this is a great start.”

The $1.05 million annual campaign officially began Sept. 1 and will end Oct. 31.

Both Shofner and Strubberg said they appreciated the creativity that the pilot companies demonstrated. 

“Those donations of $5, $2 and $1 make a huge difference,” Strubberg said. “(They) may seem small, but they go farther than anyone realizes.”

She said a food pantry is able to purchase 50 pounds of food for $5 through the St. Louis Area Food Bank. 

Jenny Risley at Canam Steel said the company’s decision to support the United Way stems from the knowledge that the dollars donated to the United Way impact local people’s lives. 

“We are passionate about helping the community we live in, and the United Way is a no-brainer to covering as many agencies as possible,” Risley said. “It amazes us how many people are impacted in the communities by the United Way.”

According to the most recent data available, more than 53,000 people across 35 communities benefited from a United Way-supported program or initiative in 2019. 

Farmers & Merchants Bank President and CEO Matt Laumann said he appreciates how the funds donated to the United Way are reinvested into the local community, something he described as “hugely important.”

“The United Way provides not only the mechanism for multiple organizations to receive much needed funding, but also it provides a means for organizations like FMB that are deeply rooted in community service and giving as a way to deploy funds across many different worthy causes,” Laumann said. 

In total, funds given to this year’s campaign will be dispersed to 50-plus partner agencies and organizations. 

These agencies range from Meals on Wheels to the YMCA Community Literacy Council to the Franklin County Dental Network. Some of these agencies offer services that directly affect students and families in the Lonedell School District, which is why Superintendent Jenny Ulrich said the district “was honored to be a part of the campaign.”

“These services better our students’ lives in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the United Way,” Ulrich said. This year, the district raised $3,718, which is an increase of $1,463 compared with last year.

Hodges Badge Co. raised $9,060 from a combination of employee donations, special events, raffles and food sales. 

“We had a great group organizing the campaign, and we nearly doubled our contribution over 2020,” said Rick Hodges, President of Hodges Badge Co. 

Hodges said “everyone could see how important the United Way was this year.” 

One employee there, Shofner said, agreed to make sandwiches once a month for a year for his co-workers who donated a certain amount to the campaign. 

“Being there for their campaign rally was exciting. There was so much enthusiasm,” Shofner said. The company’s donation to the campaign reflects a $5,057 increase over last year, which gives both Shofner and Strubberg confidence that this year’s campaign will reach its goal. Funds from this year’s campaign are sorely needed by the partner agencies, according to Strubberg.

“The need has increased exponentially over the last couple of weeks,” Strubberg said. 

She said although many have returned to work since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies who work in emergency services are reporting increased call volume. 

“The need has not gone away,” Strubberg said.

With the campaign officially underway, Abie Gruen and Mike Hoffman said they hope others will continue to raise money for the United Way. 

“Being a pilot company reminded us of the generosity of our employees. They stepped up and served their neighbors,” said Hoffman, who is Sullivan Bank’s president and CEO. The bank raised $7,005, which is a $1,330 increase over last year’s campaign. 

Gruen, who is a human resources assistant at the bank, said it was a “heartwarming experience” working on the campaign. 

“We are thankful the United Way is in our community,” Gruen said. “They are a great asset.”