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Chester County Press

United Way of Southern Chester County is a backbone of support for those serving on the front lines

11/07/2021 08:42PM ● By Steven Hoffman
By Tara Smith
The COVID-19 pandemic has functioned like an X-ray of resilience, as unprecedented and unremitting challenges strain the capacity of southern Chester County’s human support agencies. “The leaders and staff of nonprofits like Kennett Area Community Service, LCH, Oxford Neighborhood Services, the Garage, Tick Tock Learning Center, and many others are the hands and feet of our community, administering critical aid to our most vulnerable residents,” said Carrie Freeman, CEO of the United Way of Southern Chester County (UWSCC). “They’re our heroes in every sense of the word.”
The community depends on these nonprofits to be there in times of need. But the breadth, depth, and prolonged duration of COVID’s impact have stretched these organizations, and their staff, to the limit. “This horrible pandemic only exacerbated the needs of anyone who was vulnerable in any way before the pandemic hit, and our nonprofits immediately found themselves overwhelmed by requests to help provide food and shelter, basic supplies, healthcare, and so much else,” Freeman explained. While Southern Chester County has enviable emergency services and resources, responding to an unexpected emergency is one thing—and sustaining crisis-level response for months on end is quite another. 
Where can a nonprofit turn when their resources have been depleted by these kinds of ongoing and urgent needs among the people they serve? What many people don’t know, Freeman said, is that UWSCC is “the nonprofit’s nonprofit”—an organization whose mission is to support and nurture local nonprofits and their leaders. 
“Our nonprofits went into the pandemic strong and stable, in large part because the United Way is there—funding them, but also providing vital and ongoing support for their leaders,” Freeman said. “We’re a backbone of support they depend on—all year, every year.” Over the past year and a half, this question, “Who cares for the carer?” has come more and more to the fore. “That’s what UWSCC has been here in our community to do for over 75 years now,” Freeman said. “Literally, we have their back.”
After the past year and a half, everyone understands the challenges of crisis management—at the global, national, and local levels—in a new way. One of the clearest lessons is that structures need to be in place before a crisis hits. When there’s an urgent need, there’s no time to scramble around to build a support system or form a committee. When people need food or housing, or devices or internet access when school is suddenly virtual—or when a significant percentage of the community has no access to clear information about a deadly virus they may be passing on without even knowing they’re carrying it—systems need to be already in place to act swiftly and effectively.
“Hard times build even stronger relationships,” Freeman said, “and this community banded together during the pandemic and is even stronger for this horrific experience. Our community has a strong United Way, generous donors, and extraordinary nonprofit agencies who, working united, are getting everyone through.” The word “united” is crucial. Freeman credits the work of the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network (SCCON), an initiative of Square Roots Collective headed by Kate Daneker, with bringing all of the social sector leaders together for weekly Zoom meetings throughout the pandemic to share needs, identify resources, and work together. Part of UWSCC’s role, Freeman said, has been to connect community leaders with the resources required to meet immediate needs. “UWSCC has built strong relationships over the years with corporations and key philanthropists who gave above and beyond to UWSCC—over $120,000—to help meet those needs during this crisis.”
One of the best examples of the nimbleness and strength of UWSCC is the funding Freeman pulled together for early pandemic testing of mushroom workers. On May 18, 2020, LCH reached out to Freeman with a request for funding from their COVID-19 Response Fund. LCH needed $75,000 to fund a mobile testing unit, healthcare supplies, and educational materials to initiate COVID testing at local mushroom farms where, amidst fear and confusion, the virus was spreading rapidly. Freeman knew UWSCC could contribute $25,000 of the funds needed, and within 24 hours, she had created a funding consortium with the American Mushroom Institute and the United Way of Chester County (UWCC). Each organization contributed $25,000 to pay for this vital community health initiative.
In the midst of UWSCC’s fall campaign, Freeman said, they’re more aware than ever before how critical it is to prepare for the unexpected. She also warns that recovery from the many losses suffered at the hands of the pandemic will take time. People living on the edge without safety nets fall hardest, and it will take these individuals and families much longer to recover. “This crisis,” she said, “will be with us for a long time to come. We’re grateful to everyone who’s joined us. These ‘neighbors in the know’ understand that a donation to the United Way is an excellent investment in the overall health of our community. But we need the whole community to step up so we can be there ready when needs arise.” 
A gift in any amount makes a difference. “It’s the broad-based community support, with gifts from $20 to $10,000 that enable us to make this kind of a difference in our community,” Freeman said.
People often ask Freeman why they should support the United Way when they already support their favorite nonprofit. “We’re the number-one champion of all our agencies, and we encourage everyone to give directly to their favorite nonprofit,” said Freeman. “But we also encourage people to make a gift to their entire community by giving as generously as they can to their local United Way. No one else can know every nonprofit’s needs and constituents and situations intimately. That’s the invaluable role the United Way plays—to know and support all of these vital organizations well, so that our community’s support system remains strong—as needs arise in the course of a normal year as well as in times of crisis. Like a backbone, we’re the support they depend on, and we depend on our community to support us.”
“Thankfully we are a trusted tested organization in this community,” Freeman said. “With the ongoing, growing, and faithful support of our donors, we’ll continue to stand strong for our community to lean on—whatever needs arise.”
To make a donation to UWSCC and support the human needs throughout this community, go to or mail your donation to United Way of Southern Chester County, 106 West State St, Kennett Square, PA  19348.  The office can be reached at 610-444-4357.