For Hari Sastry, Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer, the appeal to take the lead as chairman of the university’s United Way Campaign was based on childhood experiences. Sastry, the American son of Indian immigrants, had visited his parents’ homeland five times before he was twelve.
“One of the things I was exposed to at a very young age were examples of extreme poverty, especially in rural areas,” Sastry recalls. “My father brought water to his village that previously had no running water, and he was able to feed people who just couldn’t afford to eat.”
These experiences stuck with Sastry, who over the years has continued to support volunteering in the communities where he has lived. He sees the pandemic as a realignment of many people towards service and demonstrated the importance of the critical resources provided by organizations like United Way.
“Regularly, and especially in Pittsburgh, there are things like the pantry in the ward that go beyond what we’ve done before because people know this is a different atmosphere than it has ever been before,” he said.
At United Way in particular, many of the organization’s priorities and staff have shifted to critical resources like the 2-1-1 hotline. “In an interview with Bobbi Watt Geer (President and CEO of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania), she said, among other things, that a line has been added to all COVID-related calls. It’s incredible.”
As a resource for vulnerable populations, the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania has become vital to those seeking help during the pandemic. In addition to the hotline, they have set up text and website support so users can connect to resource navigators who can help them find key services in their area.
Sastry also mentioned the social justice issues raised last year as the third element of a triple crisis the nation is facing and United Way is working to resolve. “We have a group here that is working to consider and implement specific efforts we can make on justice and racial relations,” he said.
Creative ways to get involved
The organization is working to secure new gifts and maintain a steady stream of funding, but Sastry recognized the challenge this unprecedented year brought.
“We know everyone’s financial situation is affected,” said Sastry. “But we also saw people who rose as best they could. And I think people are thinking about how to change, how to give, or what to do over a longer period of time. “
In relation to this year’s campaign, this includes encouraging people to get involved in creative ways, including offering new electronic options to support giving and virtual volunteering such as help desk support for remote learners.
“Getting involved is very important and the university community has always shown that they are committed to the community resources and engagement that United Way supports,” said Sastry. “This year we want to get creative in what people can participate in. We know this is more than charging a dollar for jeans to wear, especially when the jeans are almost disguising themselves at this point. But we ask people online to give what they can and help them take the time to volunteer. It all makes a huge difference, and that has never been clearer than this year. “
How do I donate?
The United Way Campaign website provides information on how to donate to support the Pitt campaign.
Options include payroll, credit card, check, or even mail.
Donors can contribute to the United Way Impact Fund, through which United Way provides funding to support local agencies serving populations with the most critical current needs, or donors can choose from hundreds of local and regional organizations to direct their contributions instead .