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Local United Way Head Credits Volunteer Efforts In Successes

At year-end meeting, people power said to help organization through difficult times

The picture that emerged from the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut was one of difficulties and people stepping up to help. Virginia Mason, president and CEO of the organization ,said the region continues to lag behind the rest of the state in economic development, with people who had previously not had problems sustaining themselves having to call for assistance. Despite the economic difficulties putting a strain on the United Way, said Mason, the organization has been successful in meeting the needs.

“As this recession has occurred, without much fanfare all of you in this room have simply rallied around the cause of caring so we can increase food being given to the Food Center,” she said. “The poundage went up dramatically last year.”

Mason, speaking at a year-end meeting at the , said the is one of the key representations of the Gales Ferry-based organization to assisting the community. She said the center serves over a million meals a year and is run by only four staffers. Adding to their ranks, however, are approximately 400 volunteers who assist in the operations.

“We’re facing touch times, but we’re not belaboring that fact,” she said. “We’re planning and we’re strategizing.

With the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut’s fiscal year starting on Friday, Mason said there are a variety of challenges that will be facing the agency. She expects that the demand on the food center will increase by 40 percent and named financial difficulties in partner organizations, homelessness, and people eating at the most basic level as difficulties.

“We know that the work ahead is going to start at the basics. We would love to do all sorts of projects, but the basics are food, shelter, and housing.”

In looking at ways to raise money and bring in new donors, Mason said she feels the organization has been very responsive to ideas suggested by the public. She said she has also been impressed by the efforts of the staff to assist those who called on the organization.

“I wish I could say something about every staff member,” she said. “I wonder if they know how much I respect and adore them.”

Mason praised Pfizer and for donations, as well as and , which sponsored the event. Gary Farrugia, publisher of The Day, said the company contributed $40,000 to the United Way through its employees and the Bodenwein Public Benevolent Association. Jim Cronin, president of Dime Bank, said his company offers incentives such as days off for contributing the equivalent of a day’s salary. He said 93 percent of the employees donated to United Way.

“The need for assistance is greater than ever,” said Cronin.

Mason closed by mentioning how her daughter recently received an award at the end of sixth grade for being the most improved student in her class. She said her daughter had been diagnosed with a cognitive learning disability, but that the diagnosis was reversed after the staff at the school committed to helping her reach her potential.

“As they found her miracle, we will find ours together,” she said.

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