United Good Neighbors marks 65 years of giving, growing in JeffCo

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 11/20/20

A worried society anxiously awaited the release of a vaccine to combat a devastating disease. The vicious murder of a Black man spawned nationwide shock and began a new chapter in the civil rights …

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United Good Neighbors marks 65 years of giving, growing in JeffCo

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A worried society anxiously awaited the release of a vaccine to combat a devastating disease. The vicious murder of a Black man spawned nationwide shock and began a new chapter in the civil rights movement. Seemingly futuristic technology was being introduced to everyday life. 

Yes, 1955 seems strangely familiar. 

But although polio has since given way to coronavirus, Emmett Till to George Floyd (among, sadly, many others) and today’s virtual assistants and smart cars make microwaves and TV remotes look downright Amish, at least one thing from the year Disney unveiled the first Tomorrowland remains the same today: 65 years later, United Good Neighbors of Jefferson County is still hard at work marshaling the support of the community for those who need it most. 

It’s a tradition in especially high demand these days, according to director Siobhan Canty. 

“It was very modest at the beginning,” she said. “I think the first year raised maybe $8,000 — which was actually quite significant back then.”

A collaborative effort between the chamber of commerce, Port Townsend Paper Corporation, and The Leader gave rise to that initial effort.

“The Leader played an integral role in helping to found it,” Canty said. “It was the mill, the chamber, and the newspaper, they got together and started this.” 

A charity born from a business might seem incongruous to the more cynical among us, but Canty insists it’s not so strange a phenomena, in JeffCo at least. 

“The mill was very involved with the city and the growth of the city generally and recognized that a lot of people throughout the county were not getting the services that they needed in terms of food, shelter, job training, just basic human needs,” she said. “So they thought, as their kind of responsibility, as the primary employer in our community, to be involved in more charitable efforts. 

“It’s kind of reflective of what I think has always been a culture of generosity in our community and those folks who have and who are in good shape financially just making sure those who are struggling a little bit more have the support they need,” Canty added. “And I don’t know of any other year in these last 65 when that’s more important than this year.”

The rise of COVID-19, Canty said, saw “extraordinary increases” in local unemployment rates, increased isolation, especially among older members of the community, and financial hardships and emotional pressures galore.

“Just so many in our community are struggling,” she said. “It really makes sense for United Good Neighbors to be doing this work of making sure that safety net of services is stronger than ever.”

The program is one of nearly 50 charitable groups and efforts hosted by the Jefferson Community Foundation. Founded in 2005 by a small group of members, it has since grown to almost $2.5 million in assets and this year officials expect to administer more than $1 million in grants. 

“We’re basically like an engine, an administrator for charitable efforts,” Canty explained. 

Perhaps UGN’s most iconic campaign, the annual Give Jefferson fundraiser, going on through Thursday, Dec. 31, has been slightly adjusted so as to reflect the unique current situation in Jefferson County and abroad this year, Canty said. 

The timeline has been shortened, she explained, so the outcome can be maximized. 

“We got a lot feedback that it went on too long,” Canty said. “We’re hopeful that by being more concentrated in our efforts we can reach more people in a more efficient way.” 

Donations to the Give Jefferson campaign support frontline efforts that deliver food, shelter, healthcare, education, and hope to those most in need in Jefferson County, including restaurant and hospitality workers, retail and customer service staff, skilled laborers, tradespeople, farmers and public agency and government employees. 

This year, officials noted, local donations will be matched by “All in WA,” a statewide relief effort supporting workers and families impacted by COVID-19.

It is, Canty said, a more precise approach than earlier, more frantic efforts. 

“The COVID response and recovery fund that was being run by Jefferson Community Foundation was running through July and [that] was really focused on new efforts to save programs and meet emergent needs as they were happening in the early stages of the pandemic,” Canty said. 

“Whereas, the UGN campaign, Give Jefferson, is really focused on general operating core support for those frontline organizations because we know they are going to have to survive this as well.”

Donors can choose to contribute to the general Give Jefferson fund (the most popular option), which allows officials to ensure all recipients are as fully funded as possible, or they can specify which partner to which they’d like their support directed. 

Inclusion among the choices is a kind of stamp of approval, and donors can be confident in the quality of the groups and efforts they support through Give Jefferson, Canty said. 

“We have what we call a community outreach team, made of all volunteer community members, who go through each one of the applications, undertake a site visit in normal years — this year that was undertaken by phone — but they do the research on it, just make sure the money is going where they say it’s going to go and that there is real impact happening and then they can be added to the campaign.”

Visit www.givejefferson.org to learn more, view a complete list of eligible recipients, and donate. 

Questions can be submitted through the “Contact Us” section of the website, directed to Canty specifically via siobhan@jcfgives.org, or by phone at 360-385-1729.

This year, several amplification efforts are also happening in addition to the larger donation matching, creative ways for donors to maximize their impact such as #MatchItMonday, wherein every person who donates online on Mondays will be entered to win prizes from UGN’s business partners and an additional $100 to donate to Give Jefferson however they choose, and #GiveLoveGiveWednesday, wherein the Give Jefferson partner that has the highest number of donors on Wednesdays will win an additional $100. 

The need, Canty said, is greater than many might think — no matter how great they think it is. 

“I don’t think that folks can overestimate the number of people who are using these services,” she said. “Many times they are people we interact with everyday — who are working in our grocery stores and our banks and our government and at our school.”

“Always, there are more people struggling to get by in our community than we’re aware of,” she added. “There are groups of veterans living in their cars in ‘car communities’ in the woods in the Tri-Area; there are young people who don’t want to take their backpack home because their parents are using drugs and will sell them and use the money to buy drugs; there are increasing numbers of domestic violence activities and limited services, in south county particularly.”

Those shocked by such revelations are likely experiencing the downside of living in a comparatively privileged area, Canty said.

“We hear the term ‘living in a bubble’ — ‘Oh, I live in a bubble here in Jefferson County or Port Townsend.’ And actually that’s not always a great thing when the people among us really do need support.”

In a world where so much seems out of the control of average people, Canty said organizations like United Good Neighbors, and the Give Jefferson fund in particular, can instill a sense of community and consistency — yesterday, today and
65 years from now.  

“Making sure these frontline organizations make it through the next 12 months is one of the most important things we can do as a community,” she said. 

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