The United Way of the Cape Fear Area scheduled its yearly campaign kickoff event last year for what would turn out to be a fateful date: Sept. 14, 2018.
That ended up being the day that Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, causing flooding and wind damage throughout the Wilmington area and destroying homes and businesses in the region covered by the nonprofit United Way, which partners with other agencies to help children, families and neighborhoods.
"We were lined up to really do something big," said Craig Heim, executive director of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, of last year's kickoff. "Instead of the [hundreds of] people that we invited, Florence came ... There wasn't anybody in this community that was untouched. Everybody was affected by this."
As a result of Florence, the local United Way had to halt its normal activity to turn its attention to disaster relief and recovery, Heim said. Dropping everything else had an impact on a goal the agency had been expecting to achieve last year: the first year-over-year growth in its regular fundraising campaign since 2013.
Typically, a United Way's yearly fundraising amount would grow every year, Heim said. To accomplish that this year, the organization needs that campaign to raise more than $2 million by June 1.
As of Tuesday, the total for the regular campaign was close to $2 million, at nearly $1.99 million. The United Way of the Cape Fear Area has raised a separate $1.7 million for Hurricane Florence efforts, Heim said. But as a result of the storm, he said, there's even more demand for the services United Way and its partner agencies typically provide.
Those agencies and individuals "are now dealing with a much greater need in the community related to the disaster but not about the disaster. So in other words, the disaster created a much greater need for food, lodging, shelter, a much greater need for counseling services, for kids to feel safe," Heim said. "These agencies do that on a daily basis but now the need is so much greater."
But Heim is optimistic about 2019.
"We can do this, absolutely," he said of the goal to reach more than $2 million. "And when we do, because I know we can do this, then the agencies are going to be in a stronger position to provide those needed services in the coming year that were exacerbated by Hurricane Florence."