MARSHALL - The board members and staff of United Way of Southwest Minnesota have been listening to what community members have to say and are responding accordingly.
The agency is beefing up its support of people living within the communities of Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Yellow Medicine and western Redwood counties. It will have an emphasis on hunger issues for one thing, said Ruth Ascher, the executive director.
"What we're hearing - we're always listening in the community - is there are issues of hunger and safety and well-being issues,"?she said.
Ascher said the agency formed a task force that "looked at these issues and revised our priorities and goals."
"Task forces of the United Way of Southwest Minnesota board of directors closely examined community conditions and found that there were significant concerns and demonstrated needs that should be addressed in a targeted and collaborative way," Kay Ponstein, the president of the board of directors, said in a news release.
There are people in the state of Minnesota that are eligible for food support but don't participate, Ascher said.
"Forty percent of our eligible seniors are not participating," she said. "It's because of the stigma (of getting help), confusion about eligibility - you could be asset rich but cash poor - or don't want to go through the application process."
Statewide, 65 percent of all eligible people don't apply and in Lyon County, the only area county that has quantified data, the figure is 53 percent, Ascher said.
"We need to get people to actually sign up for it," she said.
Ascher said it's important for people to get enough nutritious food.
"Children don't do well at school when they're hungry," she said. "If pregnant women don't get enough food it can cause health problems for the baby. Seniors often have to choose between medicine or food."
The second part of the agency's initiative is the safety and wellness aspect which is an umbrella term for many issues such as bullying awareness and prevention, suicide prevention, and support and prevention programs for sexual assault and child abuse victims.
The local United Way is already funding many of these areas, but it just wants to emphasize that the need is growing and it merits addressing. Ascher said the agency is still focused on helping children.
"We're not lessening our emphasis of kids' well-being," she said. "We will still have the Success By 6 program, books, and parent education workshops."
It is anticipated that local Community Impact Grants focusing on all of the above priority issues will total approximately $358,000 this year. Funding for these grants was generated through the recently completed annual fundraising campaign.
Ascher said the agency is "still tweaking how much money will be available for grants, but about 17 percent will be targeted toward hunger and about 21 percent to safety and well-being."
More information about the United Way of Southwest Minnesota Community Impact priorities is available on its webpage, unitedwayswmn.org.