Juliana Mazza, Miss Connecticut of the National American Miss Pageant, helped kick off this year’s United Way campaign with a story about a friend who inspired her to get involved with the fund-raising organization.
A Milford resident, Mazza recalled a friend at Harborside Middle School years ago who started skipping lunch, saying she wasn’t hungry. Soon, her friend wasn’t even standing in the lunch line any more, rather spending lunch in the school nurse’s office.
It wasn’t long before school officials realized the young girl wasn’t eating because her single mother of two had lost her job.
“The reason my friend wasn’t eating lunch was because they couldn’t afford it,” Mazza said.
But then the United Way kicked in, giving the family enough money to pay some bills, with enough left over to pay for school lunch.
That was the first Mazza heard of the United Way. She was 11. When the opportunity arose to be the organization’s spokesperson for its 2012 campaign, she said ‘yes.’
The United Way kicked off its annual campaign Wednesday at Subway Headquarters. In a room filled with sandwiches, refreshments, local politicians and business owners, Campaign Chairman Peter Spalthoff announced this year’s goal of $900,000.
The goal last year was $900,000, and since volunteers “had to break their backs to reach that goal” in a tough economy, Spalthoff said he thought it was wise not to raise the dollar figure this year.
“We haven’t hit the million dollar mark in a couple of years, but it has been done,” Spalthoff said.
Gary Johnson, United Way president, said the economy has done two things over the past years: It has made it a bit harder to raise donations, and it has increased the amount of demands on agency dollars.
In addition to allocating money each year to Milford agencies like the Beth El Center, the Boys & Girls Club, Bridges, Girl Scouts, the Milford Senior Center, Rape Crisis Center and more, the United Way also maintains an emergency fund for people who run into hard times and need help with mortgage and utility payments.
Johnson said that fund, budgeted at $20,000 this year, has been more in demand since the economy began to slide.
The United Way does a lot of things that residents may not be aware of, said Cheryl Fitzpatrick, who is handling marketing for the agency.
“One of the best programs we were involved with this winter was a prescription drug program called Family Wise for people who didn’t have insurance,” Fitzpatrick said.
The United Way partners with the national Family Wise program to offer funds to residents.
This is the 55th campaign for the United Way of Milford. Volunteers with the organization will lead committees that target specific groups, such as big businesses, education and the like.
People who want to donate to the United Way can mail a check to the agency at 20 Evergreen Avenue, Milford, Ct. 06460, or call 203-874-6791. People can even designate which agency — be it Milford’s Young Parent Program, Kids Count, Boy or Girl Scouts or any of the others — that they would like their donation to support.