MERIDEN — The United Way of Meriden and Wallingford celebrated its 90th year this week with awards for its top campaign partners and volunteers during what many speakers described as an extremely challenging year.
“What we have in common is we love our community,” United Way Executive Director Maria Campos Harlow told the crowd assembled at the amphitheater on the Meriden Green.
“Thank you all for being here and the amazing work you do,” she said. “This is not a normal year. This is a year COVID came around and changed our reality. But it’s a year we got really fired up. Together we will respond, recover, reimagine and rebuild.”
United Way representatives, board members and volunteers celebrated a year of achievements during a time when people’s health, livelihoods, and way of life were threatened by the pandemic.
The traditional workplace campaigns were replaced with new ways of fundraising and virtual events.
Despite the challenges, the United Way distributed $482,000 to 20 local non-profits, and raised an additional $183,000 for the COVID relief fund from foundations and civic groups to help 26 grassroots organizations provide basic needs.
The agency also distributed $26,400 to 132 families in Meriden and Wallingford in gift cards for emergency need. It also donated 2,041 food items through its Week of Action to bolster supplies at local food pantries.
Additionally, its Sew United volunteers produced 1,500 face masks to distribute to local medical facilities, food pantries, shelter and community agencies. And 363 volunteers logged 1,908 volunteer hours.
“These are the people who got things moving and are giving people a fresh start,” said United Way Assistant Director Diana Reilly.
Awards were given to Burns & McDonnell for its campaign that raised $173,000, Ulbrich Steel & Specialty Metals, Webster Bank, Fosdick Fulfillment Corp., the Record-Journal, UPS Freight, Choate Rosemary Hall, Jonal Laboratories and the Town of Wallingford.
The Record-Journal was honored with the Company of the Year award for utilizing part of a Facebook grant to share the stories of local non-profits with the community, developing marketing campaigns and providing in-kind advertising donations.
JL Sports was given a Special Event Partner Award, and APS Technologies and Bongiovanni Insurance and Financial were noted as new campaign companies. Fresh Start Emergency Relief, Meriden Church of Christ, New Opportunities of Greater Meriden and Prentis Printing Solutions were honored as Outstanding Community Partners and individual awards were given to campaign teams at Burns & McDonnell and Ulbrich Steel.
“We had record-breaking calls in our office, especially the first three months,” Reilly said, with a special recognition for New Opportunities of Greater Meriden. “This group is there day in and day out stretching the dollars and doing everything they can. This is an agency that is at the top of the list this year.”
Former Wallingford Town Councilor Stephen Knight was named Volunteer of the Year. Julia Pelletier was honored with a Shining Star Award for the Sew United project, inspired by her grandmother, that produced 1,500 masks. The 19 seamstresses involved in the project were given special recognition for their efforts.
The United Way also officially kicked off its 2021 campaign Thursday headed by Ty Bongiovanni.
Bongiovanni told the crowd that the pandemic is a time marker like other personal milestones, except this one is shared by the community.
“We are having one of those moments right now,” Bongiovanni said. “When we look back we’ll ask what have you done to make these moments better? How will we rebuild, and how will we reimagine? Let’s make it the best campaign ever.”