At a time when London is facing high unemployment and even higher community needs, the leaders of United Way London & Middlesex have decided to step up and make a bigger difference than ever.

This year’s $8.5 million fundraising goal was announced Wednesday (Sept. 14) before a record crowd of approximately 3,000 people who filed into the John Labatt Centre (JLC) to take part in the annual 3M Harvest Lunch and 2011 United Way Campaign Launch.

The campaign goal, the largest in the history of United Way London & Middlesex, was established despite the tough economic realities being faced by the region. In fact, Andrew Lockie, CEO United Way London & Middlesex, said the campaign goal was established with those challenges directly in mind.

“The important thing is that we have avoided the temptation to say, “Awe shucks, I guess we have to dial back our efforts and expectations.’ The truth is, there is a flip-side to that coin,” Lockie said. “The need is there more than ever. The community needs us to step up. This isn’t a time to step back. If we did that, we would be letting a lot of people down.”

Paul Seed, the 2011 campaign chair and president of Startech.com, said he believes the United Way team is prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

“There are so many people who see the needs in the community and are motivated to make a difference,” Seed said. “We know the need is out there so that is the time you have to step up and be there for people. All the people involved with this campaign are prepared to do what it takes. They don’t want to let anyone in the community down.”

The goal was revealled with the help of the London Fire Department’s Technical Rescue team and the London Police Service’s Emergency Response team. Team members rappelled from the rafters of the JLC to deliver an envelope containing the $8.5 goal into the hands of London Police Chief Brad Duncan who then turned it over to Lockie and Seed.

Duncan for one is happy the United Way is focused on accepting the challenge of these tough times and was happy the emergency response team members could help deliver the goals.

“We interact with many people who often need the support of some of the agencies United Way deals with. If we can help our colleagues at United Way in achieving their goals, then that can only help us with ours,” Duncan said. “The emergency response teams are just that, teams. They work together to make a difference. And that is exactly what United Way does.”

Michelle Suderman and Rebecca Burlock, both employees with the TD Bank branch at Dundas Street and Clarke Road, were among the 3,000-strong crowd and each was happy to be taking part in the Harvest Lunch.

Suderman said she personally donates money to United Way to help organizations such as Boys and Girls Club of London make a difference in people’s daily lives.

“We are here to be supportive, this is such a great cause. Our branch does a lot; TD does a lot for United Way,” Suderman said. “Personally, I want to be a part of something whose goal is to help those in need. And it is important to know the money they raise stays in the community.”

The unfortunate thing about the current economy, Lockie said, is that because of it the same individuals the United Way has traditionally looked to for help are now some of those in need of assistance. With that in mind, Lockie said it is up to the campaign team and volunteers to impress upon residents of what the needs are in the community and how they can be met through the assistance provided by United Way.

Experience has told Lockie London and area residents do rise to the occasion. One needs look no further than the past couple years when United Way raised record totals in 2009 ($7.7 million) and 2010 ($8.1 million).

Still, Lockie said the organization knows there is a long road ahead to reach this year’s target.

“This isn’t going to be easy, it’s going to be hard work. But it should be hard work. We should stretch to do the best we can when the community needs us the most,” Lockie said. “There were discussions about cutting back. But we did the analysis and we believe this is achievable. We also know it isn’t just going to happen because we want it to. The community has asked us to step up and we aren’t going to let them down.”

via London Community News