Some big donations in the 80-year history of the United Way of Brandon & District have come in small packages.
CEO Cynamon Mychasiw remembers being approached by a young boy when she picked up a cheque from a community centre’s day program, a couple years ago.
The young child, who must have been around nine years old, told Mychasiw he received a backpack full of school supplies from United Way last year.
The boy had told the other campers they should raise money so another child would be prepared for their first day of classes.
"As young as nine years old, he was putting back into the program that had helped him," Mychasiw said.
Thursday night, the local United Way marked eight decades of generosity with a fundraising dinner at the UCT Pavilion at the Keystone Centre.
Described as a launch party for the non-profit’s 80th year, it was a celebration of the United Way’s continued impact. They have raised $18.2 million in 80 years, Mychasiw said.
"We started in 1937 as a war bond appeal to help the Canadian war effort and to be able to morph into the organization that we are today, putting so much money back into the community and being able to help so many amazing organizations each year," she said. "It is an incredible thing."
The purpose of the organization, once called The Brandon and District Community Chest and War Bond Appeal, transformed to serve organizations at home once the war ended. Today, they have remained true to that mission.
The United Way was completely volunteer-run until 1986, when the need and workload prompted the hiring of their first staff member.
Only two individuals have held the CEO mantle at United Way. The first was the late Debbie Arsenault, who started in the 1980s and continued until her passing in 2012. Mychasiw has assumed the role since.
Many people see the United Way as a "flow-through organization," taking money from donors and simply dispersing it, but Mychasiw said they endeavour to do more.
Aware that throwing money won’t stop the issues of poverty, the United Way is aligning itself with partner agencies, Brandon’s poverty committee and dialoging with indigenous communities. They want to understand the root causes that make people require charities’ help in the first place.
"Not only do we want to financially support the programs out there, but help the people who are using these programs get out of the cycle of poverty," she said. "It can be as little as providing a coat for a child going to school."
The United Way is most visible in the months before Christmas for its annual fundraising drive. Last year, nearly $700,000 was raised to support dozens of organizations.
Yearly, United Way partners with approximately 25 agencies, including Samaritan House, YWCA, the Women’s Resource Centre and The Counselling Centre, to name a few. They also give children school supplies and winter coats as two more opportunities to help.
Lois Henderson, partner at an immigration consulting firm, was the last United Way campaign chair, which she described as a rewarding experience.
Every dollar donated to United Way goes to needy causes, she explained, since government grants cover all operational costs.
"I don’t know if there’s a better way to get money out to the people who need it," Henderson said.