A Publication of WTVP

Our nation has found itself struggling in the midst of the deepest economic crisis of our lifetimes, and central Illinois has not been immune to its effects. With the holiday season upon us, our lists of things to do will begin to grow, just as the need in our community continues to rise. So as we hurry through holiday events and shopping, we should take time to remember the importance of supporting our friends and neighbors who are enduring hardships.

In central Illinois, one in four children under the age of five live in poverty, more than 40,000 people do not have health insurance, and food that would have been on local food pantry shelves for four weeks is now gone within four days.

More and more, people are looking to their own community for opportunities to give. This is the season when we hear more about worldwide needs, but locally the need for the most basic of services—food, shelter and clothing—continue to dramatically increase, even as state funding has continued to decrease.

It doesn’t take long to realize that solutions to these problems begin right here at home. Making a difference in our own part of the world is the first step.

With a network of business leaders, labor organizations, local government and health and human service agencies, the Heart of Illinois United Way invests in 104 local programs at 47 partner agencies—impacting the lives of more than 1,100 people each and every day. These programs create a critical safety net to help those in need while providing long-term outcomes that will affect generations to come.

Locally, the Peoria area has many health and human service agencies working year-round to address the needs of our community—but annual holiday drives are not enough to support their year-round efforts. The challenges facing the individuals served by these agencies must be met 12 months out of the year. While we can focus on providing food and gifts during the holidays, we must also focus on long-term needs throughout the rest of the year, such as providing meaningful employment, job training, educational assistance and childcare.

But what can we do? What can our families do? What can our offices do? It’s easy to find ways to give to others during this time of year. From monetary donations to gifts of time, several opportunities await your generosity and thoughtfulness. Consider adding a volunteer event or special gift drive to your office holiday party or gather your family together to help other families in need. It could be the start of a year-round giving plan.

The way we collectively view helping others determines our community’s future. Our contributions impact our community’s economic development, while our philanthropy and leadership assists local agencies in serving our community.

It is up to us to work together and ensure these most basic of needs are met—not just during the holidays, but year-round. We all win when families are financially stable, when people have access to quality healthcare, and when children succeed in school. Because of these extraordinary times, our community needs your support of the Heart of Illinois United Way now more than ever. iBi