AUGUSTA — United Way of Kennebec Valley is off to a good start as it eyes its biggest annual campaign goal ever.

The campaign officially kicked off at a breakfast event Thursday morning at the Augusta Civic Center, where it was announced $1.1 million in initial donations have been pledged toward the agency’s $1.8 million goal.

Courtney Yeager, United Way of Kennebec Valley’s executive director, said it was the biggest initial donation ever — more than 64% of this year’s goal.

The initial donations were made by “pacesetter workplaces,” like Charlie’s Family of Dealerships, Central Maine Power and Kennebec Savings Bank, but many other donors will give throughout the season. Yeager said she was thankful for the community’s support.

“We’re here because the collective kindness of everybody in this room is super powerful,” she said. “You can see part of that power today and every day because you choose to donate to the United Way and support your community in that way.”

The total pacesetter donation figure — $1,160,976 — was met with a standing ovation from the hundreds of people from 71 businesses with representatives in attendance at the event.

United Way of Kennebec Valley partners with about 85 business and supports 51 nonprofit programs, including Meals on Wheels, in 21 towns. Last year, the organization raised $1,745,277 during its annual campaign.

The organization pushed the message that “every dollar counts.” To help people realize what impact just one dollar can have, Augusta Food Bank Executive Director Al Smith said each dollar he receives can feed nearly four people. At the front of the room near the lectern where speakers stood, a board displayed $380. Smith asked a member of the audience what they could buy with $380, and she said it would be a couple of weeks of groceries. He said he could make 1,520 meals with that money.

“People (ask) ‘does every dollar count?’ Well, sure it does,” he said, adding that food donations are also important to increase the variety of offerings for food bank patrons. “The United Way is a phenomenal partner of ours and we couldn’t do what we do without it.”

Former United Way Executive Director Rob Gordon was given the Community Builder Award, which will bear his name going forward. Gordon retired in August after 33 years at the helm. The award was presented by Charlie and Nancy Shuman, of Charlie’s Family of Dealerships, who have been longtime supporters of the United Way.

“I’m thrilled we were chosen to present this award to the person who is most deserving,” Charlie Shuman said. “I think we’re going to really miss him.”

Gordon thanked the attendees for “years of friendship and support” the community has given him.

“Thank you all for our history together,” he said. “I can only wish people in this room continued success and the continued strength of this community.”

Charlie and Nancy Schuman’s son and daughter — Steve Shuman and Elissa Shuman Emmons, both of whom work at Charlie’s — are this year’s campaign chairs. Steve Shuman said Charlie’s employees participated wholeheartedly in donating to the United Way after an informational meeting about how the company spends its money.

“Courtney did a great job, and everybody else at the United Way, did a great job of actually showing our employees what a dollar can do,” he said. “Once they saw how far the food bank can stretch a dollar … everybody jumped in.”

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