'All in' for Norman United Way campaign 

Photo Provided

Andy Rieger, left, and James Chappel talk to Pacesetters during Wednesday's virtual kickoff.

Two men with shopping bags walked into a downtown bank one morning this past week. Both were wearing masks. They asked to see one of the vice presidents. Nobody set off an alarm or headed for the floor or the back door. They welcomed us and helped us find our appointment.

That's the kind of world we are living in these days. In the non-pandemic world, they would have called every law enforcement agency, including the sheriff at Frontier City.

My United Way campaign co-chair, retired OG&E manager James Chappel, and I were there to deliver Pacesetter literature, pledge cards and a box of homemade chocolate chip cookies. (Maybe the cookies let the bank tellers know we were not ordinary bandits.)

Wednesday's virtual kick-off was definitely high-tech but United Way's partner agencies remain high-touch. They are where the rubber meets the road of social services.

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This year's campaign begins as many more are hurting due to the pandemic. That will make our job more of a challenge. It also reminds us that many more of our neighbors will be hurting this year. The nonprofits that serve them are hurting too. Donors cut back. Regular fundraisers have been canceled or moved online.

Many Oklahomans are only a few generations from living off the land and depending on their neighbors for their very survival. It's ingrained in our culture to help the least fortunate among us. It's also a measure of a society's compass.

James and I know Norman as a caring community that values all. I've lived here my entire life. James is more than a newcomer at 32 years. We've been involved in campaigns and partner agencies for years with our time and our checkbooks.

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In Norman, one in 8 children under age 18 lives in poverty and nearly 40,000 county neighbors are food insecure. More than 13 percent have no health insurance and thus no affordable health care.

An astonishing 35,371 adults here are living with untreated mental illness.

The United Way's COVID-19 fund was established earlier this year to help our impacted neighbors pay for housing, utilities and food. Nearly 100 percent of those asking for help have never asked before.

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The campaign aims to raise $1.9 million. Those 36 Pacesetter companies that will begin their employee and corporate drives in coming weeks will raise about half of that total goal. The remainder comes later this summer and fall.

United Way and its 29 partner agencies help identify our community's needs and find solutions. Last year, United Way partner agencies impacted the lives of more than 56,000 children, youth and families in ways that create a brighter future for everyone.

Our campaign motto this year is a simple one: "All in." We truly are all in this together.

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