Pictured, from left, Food City CEO Steve Smith, Erwin Food City store manager Jacob Ratliff and Unicoi County United Way Chairman Lee Brown announced that a Celebrity Bagger Fundraiser will be part of the 2019 United Way campaign. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

It’s kickoff time in Unicoi County.

Although football season is in full swing, a different kind of kickoff took place on Sept. 24 as the Unicoi County United Way officially began its 2019-20 drive at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center.

According to Unicoi County United Way spokesperson Lynnsey Seagroves, approximately 100 business leaders, students and community members attended the kickoff event at the Senior Center in Erwin.

“(Unicoi County High School) student Rachel Altemose welcomed everyone to the breakfast and UCHS student Nicholas Hensley led the Pledge of Allegiance, while UCHS student Tate Kerns led the invocation,” Seagroves said.

Unicoi County Board Chairman Lee Brown welcomed the community to the annual celebration.

“I am proud to kick off our United Way campaign for 2020 and live in a giving community that cares for their fellow man,” Brown said. “Your gift to United Way will be shared with more than 22 agencies that work to promote a safer, healthier, and more prosperous life for all ages in Unicoi County.”

Musical entertainment was provided by the UCHS bluegrass band, which featured Tate Kerns, John Hilmon, Matthew Laws and Connor Brackins.

Food City President and CEO Steve Smith was the keynote speaker and announced an addition to this year’s campaign – a Celebrity Bagging Event. The celebrity bagging fundraising event will take place at the Erwin Food City on Tuesday, Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Over the next couple of weeks, the United Way Board members will be calling on local celebrities to help Unicoi County United Way by volunteering to work a 1-hour shift during the event.

During the kickoff, Lee announced the 2020 campaign goal of $120,000.

“As always, we’re working to raise money for over 20 local agencies who directly impact Unicoi County citizens,” Brown said. “Our Unicoi County United Way Board is made up of volunteers; there are no paid members, and 96 cents of every dollar donated to Unicoi County United Way goes directly to an organization that supports members of our community.”

The 2019-20 Unicoi County United Way campaign will conclude with a victory luncheon in December.

“Our victory luncheon is scheduled for Dec. 5, and while donations can be made to United Way at any time throughout the year, that date will be the official conclusion of the 2020 campaign,” Seagroves said. “We hope to be able to say that we’ve met and exceeded our goal of $120,000.”

If you are interested in contributing, donations can be mailed directly to United Way at P.O. Box 343, Erwin, TN 37650. There is also a donation collection box available now at Pal’s drive-thru and will be there through Oct. 14. Additional donation boxes will be at some of Unicoi County’s downtown merchants beginning this week and will be there through Nov. 28.

Some of local industries and businesses will offer a payroll deduction for employees to make donations. Donations can also be made anytime at the Clinchfield Senior Adult Center, and donations will be collected during the Celebrity Bagging Event on Nov. 26.

For more information, including testimonials from more than 22 local agencies affected by the Unicoi County United Way campaign, please follow and like Unicoi United Way on Facebook.