By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Seward County’s United Way has once again made its campaign goal by raising $340,000, and on Friday, Feb. 24, the organization is hosting a fundraiser at Liberal’s Lyddon Aero Center with food and fun the specialty of the evening.
United Way hosted the initial edition of “Wine & Wings” last February, riding the success of past wine tastings, and the first event, according to director McKensie Hood, went better than she expected.
“We had about 100 to 150 people there last year, and we had a really good turnout,” she said.
Hood said this year’s “Wine & Wings” will be very similar to last year’s.
“We’ll have several different wines,” she said. “We’ll have quite a few sweet wines. Those are the most popular.”
Hood recently talked to Gordon Applebee, owner of Liberal’s Rafter J Liquor, one of the sponsors of “Wine & Wings,” and she said Applebee has confirmed there will be a good variety of wine for everyone to taste next Friday.
“There’s some wines on there that he’s never even tried before,” she said. “It’ll be good. People can come out and maybe try some wines that they’d never even heard of or haven’t tried yet.”
Hood said the evening will likewise feature some whiskies, bourbons and beers at the event, along with foods that will be paired with the various wines.
“We also pair all the foods with the different wines,” she said. “There’s a ton of appetizers. We had lots left over last year. It’s good appetizers.”
The food sponsor for “Wine & Wings” is High Plains Pizza, and Hood said while the “wings” part of the event is centered more around Lyddon’s aircraft, this year’s fundraiser will have some edible wings.
“Last year, we didn’t have wings because ‘Wine & Wings’ is because it’s Lyddon Aero,” she said. “Everyone thought it was going to be buffalo wings, so this year, we’re actually going to have buffalo wings.”
Along with Rafter J and High Plains Pizza, Conestoga is also sponsoring the United Way event. Hood promises everyone who comes to “Wine & Wings” an evening with a lot of fun.
“It’s a good group of people,” she said. “We have a wide variety. Everyone’s welcome in the community to come. It is $50 a couple suggested donation at the door or $30 a single suggested donation. That’s pretty much all the wine and beer and whiskey and food that you can drink and eat. We hope that more people come out. If we get 200 people, that would be awesome.”
Hood said the initial success of the 2016 event and the expected success for this year definitely makes “Wine & Wings” an annual event that will continue in the future.
“We have a couple of events that we’ve really enjoyed and have been successful, and this is one of them,” she said. “In the past, United Way has always held a wine tasting, but this is just kind of on a bigger platform. When it’s cold outside and it’s this time of year, there’s not a lot to do. It’s fun to come out and just enjoy some different wines and have a fun evening with friends and family while giving back to a good cause.”
Doors for the “Wine & Wings” fundraiser will open at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 at Lyddon Aero Center, and the event will run through 11 p.m.
United Way also recently wrapped its annual campaign drive, and Hood said she and other organization leaders are very excited about reaching goal for this year.
“We actually made our goal around the end of January,” she said. “I think it was Jan. 31 that we unofficially made our goal. We officially put the last football up (Monday).”
Hood said many United Ways in surrounding counties did not meet goal, and with many of Seward County’s agencies having locations in other counties, that news spelled cuts for budgets for those agencies.
“We’re excited to announce that we did make goal,” she said. “All of our agencies will continue to get funding, and maybe, we can a couple more agencies on. We’ve had a lot of interest, so we’re superexcited about all the businesses and individuals that give. We wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
While she would not describe the recently completed campaign as difficult, Hood did say it went fast.
“This year just kind of flew by,” she said. “People are just now in February recovering from Thanksgiving and Christmas. It all kind of seemed like it just went super fast. I think our main events that we’re having really helps us where the donations maybe lack or have gotten smaller. We have a lot of businesses that have done payroll deductions with United Way for countless years, and they really stepped up this year. Most of our businesses actually increased in donations, which is an awesome, awesome thing. We’ve gotten some new individual donors, which is always good.”
This is Hood’s second campaign for Seward County United Way, and she said with one year behind her, it was a bit easier and less stressful.
“But with the economy and how things are going and a lot of our agencies are getting cut from the government, it puts an extra stress on me to make sure to get the money that we promised them,” she said.
The agency load now sits at 25 for the local United Way, and Hood said a few have been added recently.
“Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center is a new agency that we put on board and under the umbrella of Seward County United Way,” she said. “I think it’s been two months since we added them on. We’re really excited to have them. We did lose Big Brothers Big Sisters for the time being, but we are actually already on board with trying to get them back into our community and as a presence in our community. They truly make a difference.”
Hood said hopes are to have BBBS back as a part of United Way’s group of agencies, and there has been some interest from local non-profits in becoming part of United Way’s funding puzzle.
“Our next allocation period actually will be the end of December 2017, and we’ll actually do the allocations in 2018,” she said. “That’s when those agencies can apply to possibly become a United Way agencies. We need to keep getting donations. The more we raise this year, the more agencies we can fund.”
With the completion of her second year as director, Hood said she finds it hard to believe it has been that long since she stepped into the position occupied by former longtime United Way director Kay Burtzloff.
“Kay did an awesome job building United Way to what it was,” she said. “I love what I do, and I love being able to get involved in the community. The community welcomed me with open arms, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”