Winter leaves low-income families in the cold


By Glenda Thornton
Special to the Outlook

Like many across the Big Bend, I was delighted by the gentle flurry of snow in Tallahassee earlier this month. Although I had read about the impending winter storm, to me, the possibility of snow sounded like wishful thinking. Thankfully, I was wrong. The next morning, I watched tiny snowflakes dance across my window and was filled with certainty that anything was possible. It’s a morning I won’t soon forget.

That was my experience. However, for many across the Big Bend, their experience was far different. For those in our community who struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet, lower temperatures come at a high cost and snow days don’t represent hope. They translate into higher heating bills, unbudgeted childcare, and making the impossible decision of which bill to pay when you’ve come up short.

We know from United Way of Florida’s most recent ALICE Report that 41 percent of households in Leon County are struggling. While 22 percent are considered below the poverty line and are eligible for Federal aid and other assistance, 19 percent – more than 20,000 households – make too much to receive help and too little to survive.

Living at the intersection of that rock and a hard place you’ll find 54,391 men, women and children in Leon County. If you look at the total number across our eight-county footprint, that means there are 72,411 households filled with 172,278 people who don’t make enough to cover their basic needs in Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Taylor and Liberty counties. If you drill down even further, you’ll find that in five of those eight counties, more than half of the people who call those counties home fall into this category.

That’s the hard news. Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. While our community is filled with people in great need, it is also filled with people willing to help. As is with most cases, neither of these groups is mutually exclusive. As United Way of the Big Bend’s Campaign Chair, I’m fortunate to have a window into our local giving economy and I’m proud to report it is teaming with people who care enough to contribute to absolute strangers because they know their investment has the potential to change lives.

Through workplace giving campaigns, share nights at local restaurants, events hosted by local businesses and by pledging online through United Way’s website (, investors are uniting together to make a collective difference that’s not just meeting immediate needs, but changing the trajectories of their neighbors’ lives. And here’s what may shock you – many of those who pledge their support are far from wealthy.

If you’re like me, you may wonder why someone with the least among us would choose to help. Some do it because they know the life-changing impact firsthand or have a loved one that’s benefited from programs created by United Way or administered by our agency partners. Others give because they feel called to do what they can to help those who can’t. However, many choose to invest because they know their time, talent and treasure will be leveraged wisely and thus make the greatest impact.

Consider this: Through United Way and its community partners, just $12 a pay period can be leveraged to feed a family of four for three months. I don’t know about you, but that gets me excited. That makes me know anything is possible. That gives me hope. And unlike snow, it’s not temporary.

If you haven’t invested in this year’s Community Campaign, I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to give. Please join me today in investing in United Way. To learn more, visit

Glenda Thornton is the 2017-18 Campaign Chair of United Way of the Big Bend and a local attorney. She is also a past board chair of United Way of the Big Bend.  Ms. Thornton can be contacted at: to learn more.