Board games offer opportunities for laughs, challenges and education.

Through 2021, they’ll also give Central Missouri residents a chance to support their community while competing with neighbors.

The United Way of Central Missouri’s fundraising campaign theme this year is Board Games, and its slogan is “Make every move count,” campaign co-chairs Kyle Shimmens and Sally Moore said.

“Board games take teamwork, camaraderie and perseverance,” Moore said during the United Way’s annual kick-off breakfast. “It’s so much more than winning and losing. It’s about never giving up. It’s about making every move count.”

The past two years have been challenging for the community, she said. However, the United Way was in the middle of efforts to overcome the challenges and overcome the setbacks they created.

After the May 2019 tornado that struck Cole and Miller counties, the United Way took a leadership role in tornado and flooding recovery. It mobilized volunteers, collected and distributed relief supplies and helped secure material donations to address survivors’ needs.

It raised more than $300,000 in funds and more than $700,000 in material donations.

“Still, two years later, staff is working with agencies, faith-based groups and city leaders throughout the Cole and Miller County long-term Recovery Committee,” Moore said.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and the United Way helped create the Cole County COVID-19 Assistance Helpline, and acted as the fiscal agent for the Central Missouri Food Service Relief Fund and the Medical Personnel Relief Fund, helping more than 220 people access the funds.

It also stepped up to help feed children through the Food 4 Kids program and distributed 3,800 gallons of milk through the Farmers to Families Program, Shimmens said.

More than 17,000 people in the Central Missouri United Way service area received medical, dental and mental health services in 2020, Shimmens said. More than 2,700 youth participated in leadership skills-building activities, he said. Families for 372 children maintained their jobs by accessing affordable child care through the United Way. More than 30,000 people received food, shelter, clothing and utility assistance. Food pantries distributed about 1 million pounds of food.

The United Way came out of “tough, anxious times,” United Way President Ann Bax said.

During the first half of the 20th century, the organization was known as the Community Chest — a connection to the Monopoly board game, she pointed out.

“It’s in our DNA to help people in tough, anxious times,” Bax said. “We’ve been there — thanks to all of you — through all of it.”

United Way staff are grateful and blessed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the community as it fights for the health, education, financial stability and basic needs of every person within the community.

United Way agencies helped one out of every two people in the local service area in 2020, she continued, more than 109,000 people.

The organization raises money for 28 health and human service partner agencies every year, but also supported 26 other agencies through COVID-19-related grants and other one-time grants in 2020.

“Agencies are helping people that are hungry, that are homeless — many that have lost hope,” Bax said. “From the smallest of children, all the way up to our seniors. People who struggle with disabilities. Families torn apart by mental health challenges.”

Within our community, for their safety, babies must be taken from their homes because they are neglected. Seniors must decide between turning on the air conditioning or saving for their medications. Veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and need the community’s help. Youngsters age out of foster care with no friends, no family and no support.

Those are the kinds of people who need the community’s help, Bax said.

It’s miraculous the United Way met its $2.1 million fundraising goal in 2020 despite the pandemic, she added. It took a huge team effort.

The United Way is optimistically looking forward to a new normal, post-pandemic, she told about 200 people gathered for the breakfast.

However, agency partners will continue to see a surge in demand for their services, Bax said.

The nonprofit has set its goal at raising $2.2 million this year.

“We’ve kind of been dreaming about what we hope (the 2021 campaign) will look like,” Bax said. “We don’t take for granted that things are different now. We know that, and we want to be sure that you know that United Way is going to be flexible and adjust our campaign traditions to whatever works for your business, and your organization.”

Some things probably look similar to what they were before the pandemic, she said. Large campaign rallies for Pacesetters — 29 businesses and agencies that typically raise about half the organization’s annual goal while conducting fundraising activities through all of July and much of August and complete their efforts before other businesses begin. The community campaign is usually done in September and October.

“We really can’t stress enough how important face-to-face rallies are for your team,” Moore said. “They are so much more fun and so much more personal than last year.”

Campaign chairs and agency representatives will do as much as they can, day or night, to share the United Way’s message with employers’ teams.

“We know that once an employee truly understands, they are much more likely to become a supporter,” she said. “Especially post-pandemic, we believe that it’s critical for your coworkers to hear the message, to remember why we still need their help.”