Adding to the mission

  • United Way offering limited aid to families hit by oilfield slowdown, COVID

ANDY BROSIG NEWS-SUN, Tuesday December 8th, 2020

United Way of Lea County staff Lorena Castillo, left, Gayle Conley, A.J. De Los Santos and Becca Titus pose Friday with just some of the items they’ve collected for various Christmas giving drives in Hobbs.

ANDY BROSIG/NEWS-SUN

coronavirus pandemic that’s gripped the nation and the world has prompted myriad changes.

Students are learning online and businesses are operating with skeleton staff to serve a fraction of the customers they were a year ago. Mask wearing has become the norm while greeting people by shaking their hand has gone away.

Some of the entities hardest hit by COVID-19 and the burgeoning economic crisis have been the non-profit agencies who struggle to help people on a good day. Many have been forced to change the way they do things, and United Way of Lea County is no exception.

Becca Titus, president and CEO of UWoLC in Hobbs and her staff recognized the needs of the community were changing in the early days of the pandemic. In March, with the financial backing of Chevron Corp. and the JF Maddox Foundation, the agency launched a crisis center designed to assist people – a step down a new road for the group which has focused almost exclusively as a funding source for other, non-profit agencies.

“That’s the big way it’s changed,” Titus said. “We’ve always had a very small budget for emergency assistance. We’re mostly around to supplement and help non-profits.

“We never had funds to be able to help individuals before,” she said. “That is brand new to us.”

UWoLC has done some fundraising for the crisis center, with proceeds held in separate accounts from its regular annual campaign, which provides funding for its non-profit “partner agencies,” Titus said. The local chapter also has its Lea County 211 program, which was funded to provide temporary, usually one-time assistance with rent or utilities or pay for a night or two in a hotel for people ousted from their homes due to the current crisis, she said.

“And we helped provide personal protective equipment for nurses, for example, and helped the city court when people come in without masks,” Titus said. “That fund allowed us to be able to write a check and help people out that our non-profits weren’t able to help – maybe they didn’t fit in the (non-profit’s) plan.

“There was a gap there. We came in and filled that gap.”

But the primary focus of UWoLC remained on providing for non-profit agencies, such as the Court Appointed Special Advocates, Boys of Girls Club of Hobbs and Isaiah’s Soup Kitchen. Before COVID, their involvement with individuals or families was pretty much limited to making referrals – connecting individuals or families with a specific need with the local non-profit agency that could meet that need. That doesn’t mean UWoLC is not willing to help, Titus said. It’s just that their funding is finite. Some of the projects they’ve launched since COVID hit are simply out of money, such as the rental assistance fund, she said.

“We’re just trying to find a safe way to help non-profit entities and the community,” Titus said. “We’re kind of like a liaison, I feel like.”

But, as the holiday season approaches, UWoLC does have several projects underway. One duty the agency has taken on is acting as a clearing house, of sorts, for local Christmas toy drives for children.

“We like to call ourselves the central hub,” Titus said. “It started with Project Santa, when Devon Energy came to us and said, ‘We want to do a toy drive, not at the corporate level. We want to do it with our employees but we don’t have a place to drop off.’”

And it grew from there. With Devon Energy having interests both in Lea and Eddy counties, United Way agencies in both counties soon started a friendly competition to see who could collect the most toys. Titus and her staff soon realized, too, there were other agencies who normally hosted toy drives but, due to COVID restrictions, were having difficulties pulling things together.

“That turned into, ‘How can we help other entities that don’t have a place for toy drop-off ?’” Titus said. “We felt like, because we’re such a small staff, we’re able to fall under the guidelines and operate as a non-profit. We have some protections that keep us COVID safe as far as the government is concerned

“We can still operate and do the good work,” she said. “There are so many places that can’t do that.”

Individuals or groups interested in donating to any of the toy drives via UWoLC may contact United Way at (575) 397-2203 to arrange to drop off packages. Titus and her staff have also taken the various lists from the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, Guardians of the Children toy run and any of the others and set up a Wish List on Amazon.com. People may find the link via the United Way of Lea County page on Facebook and purchase toys to be delivered to the toy drives.