United Against Poverty’s Valentine Ball was all heart

Thomas Beshears, Jane McNulty Snead and Matt Tanner. PHOTO BY KERRY FIRTH

Supporters of United Against Poverty once again showed a whole lot of love for families in need at their annual Valentine Ball at the Oak Harbor Club, contributing generously to the life-changing programs and services the nonprofit offers.

Guests at the rosy-hued, elegant affair perused an extensive selection of silent-auction items during the cocktail hour, before heading into the dining room for a sumptuous gourmet dinner, a spirited live auction and a paddle raise to fund its STEP program (Success Training Employment Program), before dancing to the music of Billy & the Sweet Talkers.

“This is an incredible evening to celebrate all of the hard work of United Against Poverty,” said executive director Matt Tanner, thanking everyone for their continued support, particularly acknowledging the event’s sponsors and the gala committee, led by co-chairs Silvia Cancio and Cate Davis.

Last year, he said, 23,000 individual households struggling with food insecurity utilized the Member-Share Grocery program; more than 1,000 households used the Crisis Stabilization program to identify barriers and devise paths to economic self-sufficiency; and 128 adults graduated from their STEP program, 80 percent of whom are now employed.

“Those statistics, combined, makes 2023 the most impactful year in our 20-year history, and that tells us two things,” said Tanner.

He explained that it demonstrates the demand is growing, and it validates their comprehensive approach as a collaborative organization with numerous partnerships.

Included among those are product partners across the nation, who ensure shelves are stocked with food and home goods; community partners to assist with the action plans they devise; employer partners who are committed to hiring their STEP graduates; and volunteers, who contributed more than 20,000 hours of service last year.

“But first and foremost, it is you all. It’s our community supporters. Each year our numbers continue to grow, which means that the resources required to support our families grows with it,” said Tanner.

“And each year, you rise to the occasion, and you ensure that our program staff is able to focus where they need focus, which is being innovative, being creative, and finding solutions for these families that are dealing with crisis. As it relates to raising the funds required to do that on an annual basis, the reality is there is no night that is more important than tonight, our annual gala.”

Tanner said that while there is no silver bullet solution for solving poverty, the needle can be moved when individuals are given the chance to obtain meaningful, higher-income careers to enable upward mobility and break the cycle of poverty for generations to come.

To do so, they will continue adding participants to their STEP program and help them find employment, including through a new Build UP workforce program that launched in February to train adults in the construction and manufacturing fields.

After reiterating the importance of their volunteer base, David Johnson, Community Advisory Board chair, presented this year’s Hands Up Award to Don Drinkard, recognizing his longtime commitment to UP, serving as a board member and on various committees.

“When it came time for the capital campaign to put us into the new UP Center on 27th Street, he was the chairman of the capital campaign, raising almost $5 million. So Don, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for 15 years’ worth of dedicated commitment to United Against Poverty.”

For more information, visit UPIRC.org.

Photos by Kerry Firth

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