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January 17, 2014

VIDEO: United Day for United Way

Roof sitters, fuel pumpers, restaurant goers contribute to fundraising push

TERRE HAUTE — The wind combined with the cold temperatures did not freeze out the enthusiasm of the eighth annual United Day for United Way volunteers around the Wabash Valley on Friday.

The 12-hour effort raised just over the $20,000 goal in a final campaign push toward the annual fundraising goal of $1.8 million.

Executive director Troy Fears said it will be sometime next week before donations from the Dine United effort at area restaurants are factored into the total.

Among the donations raised were 6 percent discounts on groceries and gasoline offered at Baesler’s Market to its customers.

Fears was among the United Way board members who spent several hours on the roof of the eastside business, accepting donations put into a bucket that was hauled to the roof via a rope. The rooftop volunteers were mostly bundled up beyond recognition with heavy coats, scarves, gloves and masks. A wife of one United Way board member said that her husband wisely wore a pair of her tights under his pants to hold in body heat.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett even spent a few minutes on the rooftop around mid-morning, when he presented a proclamation declaring United Day for United Way in the city. Bundled up in a Duke Energy jacket and work pants, Bennett rose to the roof in one of the utility’s bucket trucks.

“I feel sorry for those guys,” Bennett said after returning to ground level. “It’s been cold before when we’ve done this, but this is as cold as I remember it.”

Bennett warmed up in the cart area at the front of the grocery store before going out to do his hourlong turn as a celebrity gas pumper at the Baesler’s gasoline pumps.

“Even though it’s so cold, people still need to buy gas,” he said.

Fears said that the winter wind also kept the rooftop volunteers from hanging up banners and signs encouraging people to donate.

“This is by far the coldest we’ve ever been on the roof. It’s bitterly cold,” he said as the sun began to set.

Fears did note that customer traffic at the grocery seemed to pick up in the afternoon, possibly due to the bread-and-milk crowd stocking up for the weekend.

Collection buckets were also set up to receive customer donations both inside the store and at the gas pumps, where local celebrities vied for tips while filling gas tanks and washing car and truck windows.

“About one of every 10 customers has put something in the bucket,” said volunteer Dan Gmelich, who manned the indoor donation bucket for an hour.

He handed off his duties to Pam Grimes, who was volunteering for her third United Day. A peek into the donation bucket revealed a lot of change as well as paper currency.

“I’m glad to see the bucket filling up,” Grimes said as she took over.

More than a dozen local restaurants agreed to donate a potion of their sales to the Dine United effort on Friday.

At the popular downtown eatery J. Gumbo’s, the weather again seemed to be keeping the crowds away.

“Unfortunately, with the cold weather, I don’t think we saw as many people as we normally would,” said J. Gumbo’s owner Jeff Habermel of his lunch-time crowd at the downtown eatery.

One customer, Indiana State University student Zhen Sun, told the Tribune-Star that he visited the restaurant knowing about the United Day event. He has volunteered for the Live United effort that involves the community in the not-for-profit agency.

At Honey Creek Mall outside the Macy’s department store, volunteer Janet McBride said that donations had been slow during her collection time.

“Most people who go in have to come back out,” she said optimistically, “so I usually get to ask them for donations one way of the other.” McBride is director of the FSA Counseling Center, a agency that depends on United Way funding for its operations.

The results of the United Way of the Wabash Valley’s annual fundraising campaign will be announced at the organization’s annual meeting on Feb. 3.

For more information about the United Way of the Wabash Valley, and its member agencies, visit www.uwwv.org or call 812-235-6287.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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