Some Pfizer employees themselves instantly understood that the closing would devastate the organization that helps fund thirty-five local nonprofits. Rupp, obviously touched, recalls how one gasped, “But what will happen to United Way?”
Answering that question is Sandy Rupp's challenge. An energetic United Way careerist, she says she's “retirement age” but came here four years ago because she wanted “one last launch.” Small and trim, Rupp always looks for the positive, but she doesn't sugarcoat. Asked last fall what she expected from the ongoing fund-raising campaign, she replied, ”My anticipation is that it will still be pretty grim.”
It was worse than grim. In late January, United Way held its annual “community celebration” at EMU's student center. Though a band played and a hip-looking master of ceremonies boomed out the group's slogan, “Live United,” the atmosphere was subdued. County administrator Bob Guenzel, the campaign's volunteer chair, was almost terse as he announced that the campaign was projected to raise $5.1 million-$1 million less than the previous year, and more than $2 million below 2006's total. And as meager as it seemed, in the current economy even $5.1 million was a stretch. To get there, Guenzel warned, “we need to raise [another] $350,000.”
The applause was brief. When a follow-up speaker announced “These are tough times,” heads nodded in unison. Because even as the number of people able to donate to United Way is falling, the number needing help continues to grow.