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All for one and one for all: United Way kicks of Community Celebration

There were 'many hands united' at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion Thursday evening, as the United Way hosted its annual Community Celebration.

The event kicked off another year of campaigns and fundraisers for the organization.

The weather cooperated beautifully for the lakeside event, where inflatable kids' games sprinkled the lawn.

Over 1,000 people walked through the doors of the Community Celebration, which was free and open to the public.

The 35 area organizations helped by the United Way were set up for display around the Pavilion, as volunteers from SJE- Rhombus clowned around.

"I was the first one to get roped into this like five years ago," said Josh Erckenbrack, all dressed up like a clown, handing out balloons.

But Erckenbrack had such a good time with it, he began recruiting.

"We were up to 12 clowns one year, but this year we've got only five," said Erckenbrack, "We have fun with it."

The sound of country cloggers filled the air and candy filled the mouths of area children.

"I got some candy from the piñata and some prizes," said six-year-old Bronson Werner, digging through his bag of goodies.

But what Bronson and his little brother, Marshall, were really there for, was the free bike helmets being given away and fitted properly by Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon and his deputy.

"We've been so fortunate that every year we've had somebody call and offer to pay for the 65-70 helmets, " said Executive Director of Becker County United Way LuAnn Porter, "That's why our overhead is so low and why we can put so much back into the programs -- because of the incredible volunteers and contributions we get for this."

Two lucky kids rode away with new bikes, while two donated Flip Video Cameras were also given away.

Porter says well over 100 volunteers pitched in to throw the Community Celebration, including event Chair Cara Frank.

"I like this. I like organizing events and giving back to our area," said Frank, "I think we live in a really tight community, and it's so nice to see the small community spirit come around."

The festive event is a big change for United Way of Becker County.

One might remember being visited by a United Way volunteer going door-to-door soliciting support, but seven years ago, local volunteers knew they needed to disband that campaign.

"It was very volunteer intensive," said Porter, "and it was a day and age where people didn't feel comfortable with others coming to their doors, and we just felt like we didn't want to put people in that position."

Porter says having the Community Celebration instead has proven to be incredibly successful because they are able to have all 35 partner programs, which the United Way supports, set up in booths at the event.

"Because it gives people a chance to come in and learn about all the programs their money goes towards and helps them really understand what United Way is about and that it's local," said Porter, adding that out of every dollar donated to the United Way, 94 cents stays in Becker County.

The United Way has its fingerprints all over the community in places not everybody is aware of, but might be using.

According to Porter, half of Becker County's 32,000 residents are touched by the United Way in one way or another.

Among them are the Boys and Girls Club, Partners and Parenting, Healthy Alternative foot care for seniors, the Crisis Center, and Life Line at St. Mary's for seniors who live alone and don't have anybody to check on them.

The United Way also runs some of its own programs, such as Day of Caring and the Food For Thought Back Pack Program.

"I think last year we distributed about 6,400 bags of food on weekends for identified kids in each school system in Becker County," Porter said.

The organization has already received $300,000 worth of requests from area non-profits for the upcoming year.

It's a number that's bigger than the more realistic $223,000 goal they have set for the year or the $237,000 they raised last year.

The need is great, but according to Porter, the people of Becker County are greater.

"I am so gratified. When I look out, we are so blessed," said Porter, "If there's been an emergency, they're there. If we are in need of volunteers for anything, people call me up and say 'What can I do?'"

There are over 500 volunteers who work with the United Way of Becker County throughout the year, and roughly 2,500 on the Day of Caring alone.

Volunteers have just finished up their business and payroll drives, but they're always looking for more hands.

"Many hands united," said Frank, "That's what we say."