For Renee Sanders, it’s all about ALICE.
ALICE is an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, and it’s a term that describes half of Mississippians and about 40 percent of Lowndes County residents.
“These are the people we were calling essential workers a year ago,” she said. “Now they are struggling to make ends meet. They may be working several jobs, they are doing all they can do, but they need help. All of us know an ALICE, or we’ve been one, or we are one right now.”
Sanders, as executive director for the United Way of Lowndes and Noxubee counties, is in a better position than most to help. Right now, that means pushing her organization’s fundraising drive across the finish line.
It is still a little short of its half-a-million-dollar goal, she said, with the needle at about $439,000 as of this week.
The effort started in August with a food truck festival held at the Hitching Lot Farmers’ Market, and Sanders said she is still “making the ask” at smaller organizations and businesses throughout the two counties she serves.
“We’re trying to get all our pledges made by the end of the year,” she said. “We need them all in by then so we can budget for what we give our agencies next year.”
Fundraising has been easier this year than last, she said, for which she credits the United Way’s visibility in 2020.
“We had five food drives last year,” she said. “We fed 750 families at the first one, and at the last one we served 1,163. The community saw us being active and addressing an immediate need, and when people see their donations resulting in action they are more likely to give.”
Food was the biggest issue last year, she said, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, it’s housing.
“People’s biggest need now is a place to stay, but I can’t fix that,” she said. “The market is saturated with buyers and renters, but there aren’t enough places to go around. If they can find a place, we do have programs that can help with rent or utilities.”
The United Way provides support and grant funding to partner agencies. According to its website, the local chapter helps support 16 agencies currently.
Barbara Yeates, assistant director for Father’s Child Ministries, said her organization used the United Way’s support to “fill the (food) gap over the weekend” for its clients. It has worked with the United Way for about 10 of its 17 years in existence.
“We provide food for families who participate,” she said. “We try to help them carry over through the weekend, and it really makes a difference. We try to give enough for them to have four meals: two breakfasts, lunch and dinner.”
The meals are for children plus their guardian, she said.
“As we went through the pandemic, they helped us stay afloat and provide those necessities,” she said.
The United Way also provides logistical help, Yeates said.
“If it weren’t for them, we would have to do the ministry and also all the responsibilities of a non-profit, including fundraising,” she said. “They help us with funds as part of their service, and we also get access to seminars and a network of lawyers.”
Donations to the United Way can be made via its website at uwlc-ms.org/.