CHIPLEY — Washington County Chamber of Commerce members heard firsthand reasons why it is important to “live united.”

CHIPLEY — Washington County Chamber of Commerce members heard firsthand reasons why it is important to “live united.”

The United Way of Northwest Florida’s annual campaign was kicked off Thursday morning at the Chamber’s Third Thursday event, held at Northwest Florida Community Hospital.

The campaign raises funds through donations from workplace campaigns, special events and from online donations. Many of the Chamber members hold campaigns in their businesses, urging employees to participate through payroll deduction.

“We see the results of the agencies represented in the United Way every day at Gulf Power,” said Darrin Wall, manager of Gulf Power in Chipley. “We see people struggling to make ends meet day-to-day, and we hear of the success they have and the assistance they receive from these agencies.”

Working face-to-face with people receiving help from United Way agencies shows how the funds raised by the annual campaign are redistributed back into the community, Wall said.

“I have people tell me, ‘I can’t give much?’ I ask them if they can let go of one dollar a week,” said Gulf Power District Manager John Ed McDanal, who serves as chairman of the board of directors for United Way of Northwest Florida. “If you can give $1 a week, that’s $50 a year, and you pledged that money to a Meals on Wheels program, then you just turned that $50 into $500 due to the matching funds.”

McDanal said the matching funds that United Way agencies receive means that every dollar given is multiplied, and that benefit comes back to the home counties in which the money was raised.

The regional United Way serves 53 different organizations and agencies throughout Washington, Holmes, Jackson, Calhoun, Bay and Gulf Counties, McDanal said. 

In Washington County, those agencies include Take Stock In Children, the Council on Aging, the Salvation Army and ARC of Washington-Holmes Counties Inc., the Red Cross, Covenant Hospice, Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida Inc and the Girl Scouts of the Florida Panhandle, just to name a few.

The Red Cross was in Washington County when the July flooding damaged 108 homes in Vernon, said Bob Pearce, executive of the American Red Cross Central Panhandle Chapter. “When someone’s house burns down at 3 a.m. and they are needing somewhere to go, we are there,” Pearce said. “Three hundred and sixty five days a year, Christmas, New Year’s Day, it doesn’t matter. That is what we are there for, and that is where your United Way money goes.”