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United Way of Anderson County turns 75 in 2021

World War II had come to an end just months before and Anderson County was hurting.

To address basic needs like hunger and housing, local businessmen Douglas C. McDougald Sr. and Frank Brownlee in 1946 started the Community Chest of Anderson, the forerunner to United Way of Anderson County. Now, 75 years later, the needs in the community are eerily similar.

“If you look at what is happening with COVID, it is almost identical,” said United Way President & CEO Carol Burdette. “There are people who are hungry, there are people who are homeless, and there are people who need help with those very basic needs due to COVID, just like in 1946.”

United Way of Anderson County officially turns 75 in August 2021, but volunteers, staff and supporters feel that the milestone is important enough to celebrate for an entire year.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, United Way of Anderson County was funding 20 – 30 nonprofit agencies each year in the areas of education, financial stability, health and basic needs. When COVID struck, United Way officials realized that funding needed to immediately shift to agencies related to basic needs or those addressing a consequence of COVID.

For example, child abuse and domestic violence numbers have spiked during the pandemic, so extra provisions were made available to Foothills Alliance and Safe Harbor, which specifically address those issues, according to Burdette.

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A different looking annual campaign

With a traditional kickoff event off the table because of COVID, United Way of Anderson County opted for a drive-in kickoff in 2020. Speakers addressed more than 100 attendees as they sat in their cars, enjoying a boxed lunch from Skins Hotdogs, the Anderson institution that was established the same year as Community Chest of Anderson. Throughout the campaign, United Way turned to virtual company meetings, videos and online platforms such as Facebook Live to help raise funds to meet the annual fundraising goal.

Raising money in new and innovative ways has helped introduce United Way of Anderson County to new and younger audiences, Burdette said. One way was a first ever virtual singing competition and fundraiser called Anderson Sings that drew 43 performers to a single elimination, bracketed competition. Contestants won rounds by securing the most online votes, with each vote raising $1 for United Way. In its first year, Anderson Sings raised more than $30,000.

Reaching all corners of the county

In a county with a population of just over 200,000, United Way of Anderson County in 2020 served about 85,000, including senior adults, children and families. One longtime initiative, the Weekend Snack Pack Program, has reached 800 – 1,000 elementary school students across the county weekly for more than a decade.

Another successful program, United Way’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention effort that began in 2003, has seen teen pregnancies in Anderson County fall by 69 percent.

The next 75 years

Burdette believes that United Way of Anderson County must continue to be collaborative and look for new ways of doing things to remain relevant in the coming decades.

“The United Way that I’m involved with today as the CEO is not the United Way that I became a volunteer with 30 years ago,” she said. “We have to continue to look at different ways to reach people, different ways to raise money and keep in mind that we’re here to build collaboratives.”

Those needing assistance in Anderson County or those interested in volunteering in the community can call 211 to request services or information. Callers will be directed to specific agencies that offer the type of services needed.

Those wishing to donate to United Way of Anderson County can mail a check to P.O. Box 2067, Anderson SC 29622 or donate online at unitedwayofanderson.org.

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