The recent push by the Tri-County United Way, Nemer Ford and The Post-Star to donate backpacks filled with school supplies to local elementary school students opened the eyes of the organizers to an issue with local charitable efforts: In an area where an enviable number of organizations are doing admirable work, coordination and cooperation is lacking.
The groups spent $10,000 to fill 200 backpacks and handed them out at four elementary schools in Glens Falls and Queensbury. But as they carried out the project, organizers noticed that several other groups in the local area run similar programs to help families with back-to-school supplies.
That numerous groups want to help kids succeed in school is a great thing. But coordinating the programs to determine who has been included, and more importantly, who hasn’t been, would be even better.
The point is not to try to prevent someone from getting two backpacks but to make sure that all areas are being covered so some kids don’t go without.
The Tri-County United Way is taking up the challenge of coordinating charitable efforts and will start this fall by reaching out to school districts in the area to ask what they need and where they are now getting help.
When it comes to school supplies, some teachers reach into their own pockets to help kids buy the notebooks, pens and pencils, calculators and other stuff — and the backpacks to carry it all — that students need.
Some sort of clearinghouse to keep track of where those needs are being met and where they aren’t would be invaluable. As wonderful as it is to hear of such devotion, we can’t expect teachers to both lead the classes and buy students their pens and paper.
Cooperation and centralization can and should go beyond the various efforts to hand out school supplies. We’re fortunate in this area to have a broad spectrum of charitable and civic organizations that do a tremendous amount of good work. But each operates mostly on its own, with lots of time devoted to fulfilling individual missions but little given to cooperating and collaborating.
Exacerbating the lack of communication among groups doing charitable work is the way the local population is broken up into dozens of small, self-contained towns and villages.
People in tiny communities often cling to their local institutions — as we saw in Thurman with the rescue squad, for example — even when the community is incapable of providing the necessary support. Regionalization is the obvious solution.
There’s no reason why any community needs to lose its local food bank or backpack program. But it does make sense, within the area of Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties covered by the Tri-County United Way, for organizations providing services to families to work together to avoid duplication and make sure no one gets overlooked.
Duane Vaughn, director of the Tri-County United Way, pointed out that charitable efforts are undertaken by an array of organizations, not only traditional charities such as soup kitchens.
Schools, churches, clubs such as Rotary, community nonprofits like the YMCA, trusts set up by individuals and educational groups like the PTA all take part in the effort to reach out to families that need the help.
What these organizations have in common is they all depend on the good will and support of the community at large for donations. Everyone who donates to local causes hopes their time and money is put to its best and highest use, and improving cooperation among the area’s many service agencies will ensure that happens.
From school supplies to winter coats to meals to rides to doctors’ offices and much more, local groups do great work, helping people who need it. But the work could be done more efficiently and more comprehensively with some coordination of effort. We urge everyone engaged in providing these services to cooperate with the push by the United Way to make them even better.