Your United Way knows that when a family is in crisis or struggling to make ends meet, they may lack access to basic human needs, such as soap and diapers. To help our neighbors in need, the second annual Countywide United Way of Cayuga County Personal Care Drive begins on Aug. 16 and runs through Oct. 18.

The Auburn Doubledays are hosting the kickoff event at their Aug. 16 game beginning at 7 p.m. (General admission is $8). Community members are encouraged to bring a personal care item to the game that evening.

With your help, the personal care drive provides the necessities of life, often not covered by government assistance programs, that most people take for granted, such as shampoo, deodorant and other personal care or hygiene products. Volunteers help collect, sort and distribute the items through the county Food Providers Network.

Last year, the drive led by Leadership Cayuga alumni gathered more than 3,700 items. Sixteen Cayuga County pantries, soup kitchens and shelters received items. The goal is to double the amount of goods collected this year.

“The Personal Care Drive benefits individuals such as elderly that are on a fixed income, working adults that are supporting a family but not making a living wage, individuals that are entering the workforce trying to lift themselves out of poverty, and children,” said Chris Ehlers, community services director at Community Action Programs Cayuga/Seneca. Chris went on to say, “By giving these item you may make someone employable, children may not get cavities, and the elderly may have a little peace of mind."

While the county’s unemployment numbers remain low, the numbers don’t necessarily paint a full picture of the struggles of many of our neighbors and friends. In addition to those living in poverty, some 28% of all county households work but still struggle to make ends meet. They are classified as ALICE: Asset-limited, income-constrained and employed. For these families, the cost of living is outpacing what they earn, often forcing them to work more than one job. These households struggle to manage what most would consider basic needs: housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cellphone.

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Theresa is a single mother of three, working and going to school part-time. She said she is trying hard to make a better life for her and her children. She finds it necessary to use her local food pantry a couple of times a year. She said that finding things like laundry detergent and shampoo there is an added bonus, as these items are often very expensive. She noted that while she tries to shop at low-priced stores, the quality might not be as good or the sizes are smaller, making it necessary to spend more to get the quantity she needs.

In addition to the kickoff event, the community is invited to donate items at one of the many collection sites. These include Terry’s Food Market in Cato, Shurfine in Weedsport, Cayuga Lake National Bank in Aurora and Union Springs, the King Ferry Corner Store and the Moravia Post Office. Savannah Bank has collection bins at its four locations in Auburn, Fair Haven, Port Byron and Savannah.

Drop-off sites in Auburn also include Buffington & Hoatland, CPAs; Memorial City Hall; the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce; the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center; the Commons on St. Anthony; the SCAT Van; and Tompkins Trust Co. A number of local employers are hosting internal drives, and these include Dermody, Burke & Brown, Johnston Paper, Medent, Midstate Mutual Insurance Co. and Wegmans.

Groups or individuals can host their own drive. These are a great way for your business, school, church, book club or other civic group to make a big difference with little effort. Volunteers are also needed on Oct. 18 to help collect and sort items. Needed items include shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash and dental floss, deodorant, razors, laundry detergent, body wash and hand soap, toilet paper, feminine products and diapers. 

For those looking for help in locating an area food pantry or soup kitchen, or needing any assistance: You can dial 211 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The confidential help, resource and referral service can also be accessed via texting 898-211, or online at 211lifeline.org.

The United Way is still accepting additional drop-off sites. For more information, or a participation form, visit unitedwayofcayugacounty.org or call (315) 253-9741.

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Karen A. Macier, of Auburn, is executive director of the United Way of Cayuga County and has spent 20 years working and volunteering in the not-for-profit sector.