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United Way campaign goal makes a local difference

Staff and volunteers in Foodnet kitchen Oct. 3. Photo by Desiree Holz/Ithaca Week

The day starts early for cooks at FoodNet Meals on Wheels in Ithaca, N.Y. An assembly line of eight to nine people waits for mixed vegetables and goulash to cook as they prepare to package around five hundred meals for four hundred community members in Tompkins County.

The organization has eight routes that deliver anywhere from one to two meals a day to residents across the county. The process appears seamless from the outside, but a lot goes into providing the quality services Foodnet is known for.

Foodnet is a nonprofit organization that requires collaboration between fundraising and donors to provide its daily services. One of those donors is the United Way of Tompkins County (UWTC).

UWTC has been serving Tompkins County families and organizations for over 100 years and supplies direct funding to Foodnet, which allows them to make the decisions they need to provide services. Interim CEO of UWTC, Gail Belokur, said her organization performs key functions for the local community, all centered around care.

“Our mission is to mobilize the caring power of our community and the ways we do that is threefold,” said Belokur. “We encourage people to give, advocate and volunteer,” she added

 Money, money, money 

Each year UWTC sets a campaign goal to raise funds to support its various partner organizations. This year’s fiscal goal stands at $1.8 million, over $100,000 higher than last year’s fiscal goal.

Pictured Gal Belokur and Cal Walker. Photo by Desiree Holz/ Ithaca Week.

“This is truly the number that we feel we need to raise to meet our current level of services and our current programs that we fund,” Belokur said.

Belokur added that a key reason for the increase in the campaign goal this year is inflation. At 8.3% in August of 2022 inflation in the United States is facing its most dramatic increase in over 40 years. Belokur said today’s current inflation rate translates to one month less of expendable income for families, causing increased stress on households.

Where it counts

 Aly Evans, executive director of Foodnet, said that a mix of inflation and labor strikes is prompting increased financial support for her organization. Sysco, a national food distributor, normally provides food for Foodnet, but due to a nationwide strike, the organization is running into shortages.

Pictured Aly Evans. Photo by Desiree Holz/ Ithaca Week

The lack of supplies is forcing Evans and her team to outsource to other food vendors, she said leaving Foodnet to search for food in an economy where food prices are ‘soaring.’

Funds that mean something

Though Foodnet has not yet sought funding for this issue, UWTC provides emergency funds for organizations with unique circumstances. Belokur said the over $100,000 campaign goal increase will not go unnoticed in Tompkins County.

“The way I like to think about it is that it’s hard to know what won’t happen if the funds aren’t raised,” Belokur said. “But to the people who are counting on services or are counting on help with a heating bill or rent or child care or a car repair– that’s a very real difference. It’s just very hard to measure.”

A tangible goal

Cal Walker, relationship liaison at UWTC, is looking forward to the positive change that this increase will bring to the community.

Walker and Belokur working. Photo by Desiree Holz/ Ithaca Week.

“A lot of great stuff can happen with $1.8 million – a lot of needs we can fulfill in this community. A lot of people that can live better,” said Walker.

For more information, visit United Way of Tompkins County at

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