Written by Carly Phillips
“Volunteers are like the breath of life for most things,” says Candy Crecink, the executive director for the United Way of North Central Mississippi. “We are reliant on volunteers.”
United Way works hand in hand with 15 different agencies in the area and surrounding counties to ensure that needs are met in the community. They strive for positive change and growth and go by the philosophy “stronger neighbors make a stronger community.”
United Way and the agencies it supports are always welcoming help in any form, especially volunteer work. Most of the things they do are solely made of volunteer teams and are essential to putting on these programs.
To find the willing and able, they go through Volunteer Starkville, which is the community volunteer center that aims to help “…individuals and groups find volunteer opportunities that match his/her/their interests and/or skills while helping local nonprofits recruit volunteers for their volunteer needs” (www.volunteerstarkville.org). They also put information in their press releases when people are needed, they contact people that have helped in the past, and of course they welcome newcomers.
“What is really amazing about this area, especially the Starkville area, [is that] we’re a very impressive community,” Crecink says. “People are noting us in all of our successes we are experiencing right now. One of the secrets to being a positive place to live is the genuine care and concern neighbors have for neighbors here. We are the community builders. We know all of the issues going on and we know all the resources we have. We have to ensure that neighbors remain taking care of their neighbors. A lot of the events you go to – the volunteers, if you get to know them, – they come from all walks of life and no one is better than the next person here. It is one of the most refreshing communities.”
There are many ways to get involved with United Way and all of the groups they help, or you can single in on one specific group. You can get in touch directly with Crecink and she will direct you to an opportunity, or you can search for events currently taking place through Volunteer Starkville.
United We Feed, the local fall project that United Way coordinates with community help and volunteer efforts, begins in October and lasts until late November or early December. They gather and offer food to 10 local food pantries, three school programs, a casserole kitchen and the Salvation Army. It is organized so that each group can come to the distribution point, find what they need and then take it. Crecink says that they managed to give eight tons of food last year. This year they are hoping for twelve.
“Most of these people who run these places say ‘We really appreciate this. We face the fact that these people are hungry year round,”’ Crecink says. “When you get the hugs from these food pantry people, you know you’ve hit the mark.”
Before they make it to the distribution part, they volunteer 3 weekends of the month at Kroger, Vowell’s and one weekend at the Oktibbeha County co-op for pets.
“We have volunteers out there encouraging people. We give them a little list of what foods we want and they go in there and bring them out and make a big deal when they put them in the big red boxes,” Crecink says. “They [volunteers] are the ones who are making the people aware. The way they approach them is vital to the amount we can gather.”
People can even donate money to the cause and the groups will go and buy the needed product for them.
“Between the gathering of the food on the weekends at the grocery stores, the actual organizing of the food at our distribution point and the handing out of the food to the food pantries amongst all the 4 counties, we will probably have close to a hundred volunteers for that and we have someone coordinating those efforts for us,” Crecink says.
Of the 15 agencies, most have things going on year round, but sometimes help is especially needed and appreciated during the holiday season.
The Salvation Army, which states on it’s national website (www.salvationarmyusa.org) that the group “… exists to meet human need wherever, whenever, and however we can,” is a multiservice agency with a center located in Starkville that helps with clothing, food pantry, furniture and utility needs. They have their annual bell ringing that welcomes donations from passersby so that the less fortunate will have meals during the holidays. They also have their Angel Trees Program, which allows people in the community to buy Christmas gifts for children that might not have them otherwise.
Another place to help out would be the Golden Triangle Area Agency on Aging, a group under the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District (GTPDD), whose goal “…is to provide services that assist older persons in leading independent, meaningful and dignified lives in their own homes and communities as long as possible” (www.gtpdd.com).
“The holiday season would be an exceptional time because it’s family time and a lot of them don’t have family,” Crecink says. “It is home services and home meals for the homebound senior citizens. They service 7 counties and there is a waiting list in every one. Can you imagine the holiday season? Some of them do have family that come over, but not continuously.”
If you can’t volunteer your actual time, it is still extremely helpful to make a financial donation. All of the funding donated to United Way is dispersed throughout these 15 agencies.
“If they fund through us, then they know that they helped someone,” Crecink says. “There is no question that their money hasn’t touched. We feel like everyone’s support goes to each and every one of them.”
It is also helpful to “volunteer your voice,” as Crecink says. “You might not have time, but you can volunteer your voice and that is priceless. It makes the connection. You can say every morning when you look in the mirror, ‘I helped someone today.’”
Other groups include: American Red Cross (Northeast Mississippi Chapter), Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club of Oktibbeha County, CONTACT Helpline, The Father’s Child Ministries, 4-H Clubs, Girl Scouts (Heart of the South), Starkville Area Habitat for Humanity, Helping Hands Ministries of Oktibbeha County, Oktibbeha County Humane Society, Safe Haven/The Rape Crisis Center, and The Sally Kate Winters Children’s Home/Sally Kate Winters Family Services.