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United Way of Albany County is set to begin its 2020 fundraising campaign next weekend with an online cocktail-making event.

The kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday via Zoom. Cocktail kits are $20, and bartenders from Front Street Tavern will provide the instruction. Sweet Melissa Café is offering appetizer and dinner specials.

Kits are available with or without alcohol, and the deadline to order one is Tuesday. Viewers may attend the meeting without ordering a kit.

Executive director Evelyn Edson, who took over for Paul Heimer last spring, said United Way is aiming to raise $535,000 this fall, an increase over last year’s total of $531,750.

Contributions from individuals and businesses will support 17 local social service agencies. The fundraising campaign is set to run through Thanksgiving.

Edson thanked the community for contributing to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was launched in March. More than $80,000 was distributed via almost 90 separate grants to organizations across the community.

Now local non-profits are shifting their focus from responding to emergency needs wrought by the pandemic to maintaining services in the face of continuing or increased needs.

“A lot of agencies have seen an increase in requests for services, rent, food, and they’re navigating how to operate in our new normal,” Edson said.

Meanwhile, the state of Wyoming is deciding where to cut its budget, and those cuts will impact local agencies. That makes United Way funding more critical than ever.

“Those budget cuts that are coming through are really going to affect them,” Edson said. “This campaign helps them keeps their lights on and their programs going. It’s money that they rely on year after year.”

While agencies use United Way funding in direct support of their operational costs, many of them also leverage the funding to qualify for other grants as well.

“Each of the agencies use specific United Way donations to match some grants,” she said.

Edson said United Way is hoping this fall to highlight many of the community partnerships that makes it mission possible. The agency is part of a Laramie Main Street Alliance promotion called the Power of Five, during which community members are invited to donate $5 to United Way while enjoying $5 dining and shopping specials across the downtown district.

United Way is also planning an October talent show in partnership with Relative Theatrics. The winner will be the act that entices the largest number of people to make a donation.

Money raised this fall will be allocated by a community board early next year.

To make a donation or order a cocktail kit, go to unitedwayalbanycounty.org/giving/online or call 745-8643.

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