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United Way of Washtenaw Leads Strategies for Success

By 2030, we aspire to live in a community where your zip code no longer determines your opportunity in life. United Way of Washtenaw County fights for the health, education, and financial stability of all people. Our mission is to CONNECT people, resources, and organizations TOGETHER to create a thriving community for EVERYONE.

On the surface, we have a lot to celebrate in Washtenaw County when it comes to health. We’re ranked 4th healthiest county in the state, and ranked 1st in healthy behaviors and clinical care available. But if one digs a little deeper, a different story is uncovered:

On average, African Americans here live 10 years less than white residents. Hispanic residents live 16 years less than white residents.

Although the overall county rate for infant mortality and low birth rate babies is below the statewide rate, African American babies are 2 to 3 times more likely to die or be born at a low birth weight.

One in seven residents in Washtenaw County struggle with food insecurity.

African-Americans in Washtenaw County have 15% higher obesity levels than their white neighbors, and have the highest rates of diabetes throughout the county.

These inequities are unacceptable. United Way of Washtenaw County is tackling these challenges by focusing on two high-level health goals: ensure that residents with low incomes have 1) access to healthcare and 2) increased food security.

How do we do it? By investing in the strategies and solutions that have been proven to work through research and practice AND by making early investments in emerging solutions to allow organizations to test things out and leverage additional support to grow.

Okay, without the jargon now…how do we do it?

We support our partners at Food Gatherers to manage their extensive network of food pantries and meal service programs to reach those in need of emergency food. And Food Gatherers doesn’t just measure pounds of food. They prioritize getting healthy food to people that need it and showing people how to prepare it!

We support our food delivery partners (Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels and Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels) to provide daily delivery of nutritious meals to our homebound neighbors. In addition to providing a daily meal and safety check to hundreds of people, they also periodically assess the health/nutritional status of their participants. One success story: Clara, a 92-year-old participant receiving meal delivery, was able to discontinue her diabetes medication after receiving consistent nutritious meals over time!

We support agencies like Growing Hope to empower others to grow their own food, a vital piece of the food system and increasing food security. Last year, we funded an expansion of Growing Hope’s programming to test a weekly distribution of seasonal produce boxes at a public housing community, nutrition education for teens, and a deep examination of how the organization’s programming can address systemic racism in the food system.

We were early investors in We The People’s Growers Association, a fledgling organization with a big vision: use a world-class organic farm as a launch pad for employment readiness programming for returning citizens and youth. Our early funding allowed them to leverage a $50,000 matching grant from Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital that brought in an additional $43,000 from donors!

We recently funded a pilot program at Food Gatherers to take their summer meals program on the road and reach kids and families that live in food deserts and have no summer meal site nearby. We’re excited to see the results this summer!

This is just a snapshot of our work. Last year, United Way invested $705,840 in health and nutrition solutions, and more than 16,000 people were touched by these programs.

United Way of Washtenaw County is in the business of solutions and bringing the community together to create the opportunity for more people to lead healthier lives. Learn more about our work online at and join us!

Breanna Wheeler, Development and Communications Associate, and Amanda Reel, Community Impact and Volunteer Manager, authored this piece on behalf of the United Way of Washtenaw County. Learn more about their programs at

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