Walt Disney characters Timon and Pumbaa stole the show during an inaugural Films in the Fields at Riverside Park that featured a free screening of “The Lion King” presented by United Against Poverty Indian River County.
It was a gorgeous night under the stars, despite a slight chill in the air that saw little ones wrapped in blankets or snuggled into sleeping bags, and families happily got lost in a world of fantasy. Before the movie, families spread out blankets and lawn chairs to picnic on their own snacks or on offerings from the nearby Saussie Pig food truck.
“Our community needs these types of events,” said Matt Tanner, UPIRC executive director. “To come back out, to be reconnected, to enjoy each other, to build that sense of community. That’s something we want to prioritize this year, because everything has been so hyper-focused on crisis and crisis management and the pandemic. We want to start to bring and infuse some fun and some joy and some community back into our work.”
The mission of the nonprofit is to provide crisis care, case management, transformative education, food and household subsidies, employment training and placement, and personal empowerment counseling to people at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
United Against Poverty, founded in 2003 as a Member Share Grocery, has grown substantially over the years, and in January 2020 opened an expansive new facility.
But despite all that, Tanner says, “I think a lot of folks still don’t know who we are and what we do, so we also want this to be an opportunity to raise some awareness of our programs; who we are as a nonprofit and what we do to support our community.”
Through four core programs – Member Share Grocery, Crisis Stabilization, Success Training Employment and Education – the organization works to inspire and empower people to lift themselves and their families to economic self-sufficiency.
Tanner said that during 2020, they saw an 80 percent increase in the number of households served.
“It was a challenging year for the community. We saw a lot of folks dealing with a lot of crisis,” said Tanner, noting that through partnerships with other organizations, UP provided $850,000 in financial support to more than 800 families.
“A lot of social service agencies were forced to close their doors here in the community last year. We kept our doors open the entire year. We saw a massive influx as a result, but again, we’re following up with all of these families that we had a touchpoint with last year,” said Tanner. “We’re forward-focused.”
He explained that the pandemic created a need to modify how they deliver some of their services, such as providing a Mobile Marketplace to take food to areas in need.
Additionally, they had taken their STEP classes online, so that participants could continue to work through the program, and they plan to continue offering virtual options to combat transportation and childcare issues, or for anyone not comfortable in a group setting.
United Against Poverty plans to host another Films in the Fields sometime in May, and their signature Burgers & Brews fundraiser is back on the grill June 26.
For more information, visit upirc.org.
Photos by Kaila Jones