UWGT revises Christmas Bureau fundraising goal following reduced enrollment

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 3:23 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The United Way of Greater Topeka has revised its fundraising goal after a reduced enrollment in 2020.

The United Way of Greater Topeka says when the Christmas Bureau started strategizing for 2020, they planned for the worst. It said for 79 years, it has served low-income individuals and families that could use extra support during the holidays.

UWGT said in 2019, around 1,600 households with almost 6,000 individuals applied for holiday help, which is normally provided by community “adopters” that would shop for items on a wishlist and deliver the wrapped gifts and a holiday meal. Unfortunately, it said the pandemic forced partners like the Topeka Rescue Mission, Doorstep, Salvation Army and Topeka Housing Authority to follow a safer model for 2020. It said it opted to give out $15 dollar gift cards to each household member along with a holiday dinner.

According to UWGT, the fundraising goal was originally set at $90,000, which would have been enough to purchase 6,000 gift cards. It said normally, it only needs to bring in cash donations to cover those that are not adopted by families or groups. It said that the goal seemed daunting given that all nonprofits are currently struggling to connect with donors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UWGT said at the end of five intake days at three different locations, almost 3,600 individuals applied for the 2020 season. It said this is a 40% decrease from its initial expectation. It said it has adjusted its fundraising goal accordingly to $55,000. It said as of Thursday, Nov. 19, the community has donated $26,000.

“We don’t know exactly why the number is so different from last year, but we suspect COVID was a big reason. People may have decided not to risk getting out to apply this year, even though we took steps to make the process as safe as possible (three sites instead of just one, PPE and social distancing were required, and elimination of the wish list to make intake quicker),” said UWGT CEO Jessica Lehnherr.

Lehnherr said after speaking with other United Ways throughout the nation, it appeared that UWGT was not alone in its decline of holiday season applications.

“While we are disappointed and concerned that people who might be in need this holiday might not be accessing help, we are confident that everyone who did apply will be taken care of. If we can get that done in the next 10 days, we’ll be able to make sure families receive their gift cards with plenty of time to celebrate,” said Lehnherr.

According to UWGT, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases will make gift card and food distributions challenging. It said partners are currently collaborating on the safest and most efficient way to make the distribution happen. It said if there are safe options for volunteers to help, it will post them on

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