WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Community Chest is on track to complete its $250,000 campaign drive this year.
The 86-year-old nonprofit directly supports some 15 agencies that provide services to North Berkshire County citizens, and more particularly those of Williamstown.
Representatives from those agencies and others were at The Orchards on Thursday for a Williamstown Chamber of Commerce mixer that highlighted nonprofits and served as a jumping off point for the final leg of the Community Chest's annual campaign.
"We haven't raised our goal at all in the past four or five years," said James Mahon, campaign co-chairman with Laurie Riley. "We think that's enough but our agencies are getting more and more business and more and more needs."
There's concern that federal cutbacks — such as food supports, including Women, Infants, and Children — are falling more on local agencies as they try to bridge the gaps. That makes campaign drives to support those agencies even more important.
Mahon said the Community Chest hasn't raised its goal in four or five years, but it's hoping an upturn in the economy will prompt more giving. Right now, the drive is running slightly better than last year, at just under the $200,000 mark. The campaign wraps up at the end of April, early May.
"What we do is help the children and less fortunate within the community to get the needs that they need met," said Community Chest President Michael Goodwin. When the organization was considering a way to promote the nonprofit, a chamber event seemed appropriate since businesses will be solicited in the final step. "... we thought they're very successful and why don't we do one?"
The mixer allowed those interested in what local nonprofits do — or in volunteering — to talk with representatives directly or sign up with different agencies for more information.
The chamber event was a chance for nonprofits supported by the Community Chest to mingle with local business leaders. Chest President Michael Goodwin, right, said the agency was about meeting people's needs.
Gala and its chef Chris Bonnivier supplied samples of the spring menu and "celebrity" bartenders vied for tips (donated to the Community Chest) to prove who was best. Chamber Executive Director Jennifer Civello made the introductions and welcomed guests.
The annual campaign is the main fundraiser for the nonprofit; it also holds a community Fun Run and the popular Penny Social during the annual Holiday Walk. The volunteer-driven organization also helps out with community projects.
Mahon also noted that supporter Williams College "knows it has a responsibility and, also, members of this community who know that the college can't do it by itself and everybody pitches in and that's how it works."
The Community Chest's focus is local: Even when it gives to major charities, the donations are for those efforts being done locally.
"Lots of people don't have time to investigate the different agencies," Mahon said. "What we do is we say 'we're going to pick the agencies, we are going to sit down with them, go over their books, we're going to visit their operations, we're going to vet them, and you're going to be able to have the confidence that if you give money to the Community Chest, you're giving money to those things that are important to Williamstown.'"
He warned those at the mixer to be prepared for the letters asking for donations that were about to drop into the mailboxes of local businesses and urged them to continue giving.
"This is a community that really holds itself together on the basis of volunteerism, of people caring for one another. You and the businesses in Williamstown - you are the backbone," he said. "This is about our community, this is about going forward and staying healthy as a community."
Agencies served by the Community Chest are the Berkshire Chapter of the American Red Cross, Berkshire Center for Families and Children, Brien Center for Mental Health, Child Care of the Berkshires, Ecu-Health Care, Elder Services of Berkshire County, Elizabeth Freeman Center, Equus Therapeutic Inc., Family Life Support Center, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, Northern Berkshire YMCA, United Cerebral Palsy, Williamstown Community Preschool and the Williamstown Youth Center.