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United Way campaign kicks off with higher fundraising goal

SALISBURY — It’s time to get up and get to work, Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell, chairman of the 2019 United Way Campaign, told a crowd gathered Wednesday for the campaign kickoff.

This year’s campaign goal started with an unusual number — $1,525,963. And by the time the kickoff ended, that number had risen to $1,526,117.

“Why in the world would we not just round it up or down?” Parnell asked.

It’s because the number 963 represents the number of people who have overdosed, died from an overdose, or died of mental health-related conditions and similar issues from January to mid-August, Parnell said. If there were 963 people in the Salisbury community affected by anything else in an eight-month period, it would be considered an epidemic, Parnell said.

“If it were mosquitoes, people would be on the city, county and state about getting rid of the mosquitoes,” he said. “If it was sickness, the flu, the community would be all over it. … Now that we know the number that impact our very county, don’t you think this is epidemic proportions?”

The United Way is destined to address the issue, he said, because of its change in focus for its annual campaign.

Agencies previously received annual allocations from the United Way, but its new community-impact model aims to jump-start programs that focus on substance abuse, mental health, healthy lifestyle behaviors and basic needs. Those areas were identified in a 2018 assessment.

Programs chosen will see a 10% cut in the second year, and that’s intended to ensure the programs are sustainable.

The United Way’s campaign is funded overwhelmingly through workplace drives, where employees can choose to contribute a certain amount of their paycheck. Interim Spencer Town Manager Dave Treme told the crowd Wednesday that this will be the first year the town will have a workplace campaign.

And while the fundraising goal started at $1.525 million, it increased to $1.526 million on Wednesday because of updated statistics for overdoses, overdose deaths, cardiac arrests from overdoses and reports of suicides.

Rowan County Emergency Services Chief Chris Soliz said there has been 78 overdoses in Rowan County since mid-August, three cardiac arrests from overdoses and 73 suicide calls. And over a five-year period, Rowan County Emergency Medical Services has seen a 14% increase in call volume, with Soliz saying overdose and mental health-related calls are a “significant portion of that.”

“Our goal increased while we sat here. Our mission increased while we sat here, and our needs in our community increased while we sat here,” Parnell said. “I’d like to tell y’all, ‘Get up and get to work,’ but I know you are. … We have got to get a handle on these events in our community.”

Parnell said the campaign’s goal will continue increasing as there are more calls for service for overdoses, mental health problems and suicides. The campaign’s next report date is in early October.

Cabinet members for the 2019 United Way campaign are Eric Slipp, of Nouryon, public relations chairman; Andrew Smith, of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, vice chairman for education; Jim Behmer, of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, presidents; John Struzick, of Innospec, chairmen; Greg Anderson, publisher of the Salisbury Post, Industrial No. 1; Bob Cartner, of Chandler Concrete, Industrial No. 2; Jimmy Greene, of Fisher-Greene Insurance, Commercial No. 1; Rhonda Martin, of F&M Bank, Commercial No. 2; Mark Lewis, of Peoples Bank, Commercial No. 3; Chris Soliz, of Rowan County government, public employees; Terry Smith, of the Salisbury Fire Department, community business; David Treme, Spencer town manager, special gifts; and David Post, David Post Law, professionals.

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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