Individuals walking the streets homeless. People just days shy of paying their rent. Those who have no food money left after paying their bills.
These are the people whom the United Way of Hudson County assist each week after receiving donations from businesses, employees, and county residents.
While United Way is a multi-service agency, United Ways across the country do not provide the same programs, instead catering specifically to the areas they serve, according to President Dan Altilio of United Way of Hudson County, 857 Bergen Ave., Jersey City.
“Since needs vary in every community, our message about what we actually do collectively is very difficult to express,” he said. “In Hudson we work on homelessness, and in Iowa the issue might be unemployed farmers.”
Most of the country knows the organization as the one that comes to your place of work, explains services, and then asks for a weekly payroll donation. While United Way of Hudson still does that, officials there are also adamant about not letting that be the only way it raises money.
“The United Way of Hudson County is more progressive in our approach to social services and funding,” Altilio said. “We seek the traditional United Way-style funding as well as foundation grants, government grants, and fundraising through retail.”
The group also has a retail division, through which it runs a thrift store on 35th Street in Union City and a thrift outlet on Metro Way in Secaucus. All proceeds from the two ventures are earmarked for homeless services.
United Ways are nonprofit organizations that are independent of each other, raising money locally and spending the funds locally on social services, according to Altilio.
While the organization’s common ground nationally is health, education, and income, the Hudson chapter works primarily on homelessness, housing, and poverty.
“We have many different programs and collaborations that bring services to Hudson.” – President Dan Altilio
“We have many different programs and collaborations that bring services to Hudson,” Altilio said. “We deliver our social services directly.”
The group’s services support people in nine Hudson County municipalities.
United Way of Hudson County sponsors a collaborative program through which 85 chronic homeless live in apartments and receive support services; runs a weather emergency shelter system; transports the homeless to Trenton for personal documents, and is in the process of building six units of special-needs housing.
It also sponsors an informational phone line, an emergency relief fund, a homeless prevention housing effort, literacy and mentoring programs, and a tax preparation assistance course.
“Volunteers fill out documents during the tax season at no cost,” Altilio said. “It’s designed so that people in lower income brackets can take advantage of earned income tax credits.”
Four hundred people took advantage of the services at the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site last year.
United Way of Hudson County has even helped the cities themselves, providing use of a phone system and offering the organization’s electronic gift-giving process to collect funds for charities or special circumstances. Earlier this year, when Jersey City Patrolman Melvin Santiago was killed, United Way helped raise $36,000 in one weekend.
One of the offerings United Way officials are most proud of is the group’s Homeless Retention/Rapid Rehousing Program.
“With people who are getting evicted, or who have just lost their apartment, we can pay their rent for them or keep them in the apartment where they are,” Altilio said. “We’ve served about 1,000 people, all through state money. They have to find the new apartment; we do all the qualification stuff. Everyone’s happy, everyone's paid, and the person doesn’t lose their apartment.”
United Way’s goal locally is to help those in the lowest economic bracket.
“We look for the poorest person in Hudson County to serve,” Altilio said.
Local staff and help
This local United Way doesn’t just help county residents; many of its 15 staff members and volunteers also live in the county. This includes Services Director Carmel Galasso, Bayonne; and Advancement Director Emory Edwards, Jersey City.
The United Way has a special event coming up, the Havana Night Party & Fundraiser on Friday, Sept. 19 from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Lido Restaurant & Catering Hall, 2600 Tonnelle Ave., North Bergen. For a $50 advance ticket, one can enjoy a live band and DJ, Latin dance show, appetizers, and beer, wine, and sangria. Tickets can be purchased now at unitedwayhudson.org.
For more information about United Way, call (201) 434-2625, or visit liveunitedhudson.org.E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.