SHEFFIELD - Friday's football-themed kickoff for the 2011 United Way of Greater Lorain County fundraising campaign had it all.
There was a green football field complete with numerals and yard markers, a big pickup truck for tailgating, wings, burgers and a marching band.
The only thing missing was a dollar goal for this year's campaign. For the first time in its history, the county United Way organization opted not to set a financial goal.
"This is the first time we have not set a specific goal, but it has been a trend for United Way chapters nationwide for some time now," Bill Harper, United Way's executive director, said during the noontime event held in the showroom of Mike Bass Ford.
"We're stressing participation this time, and people volunteering and contributing to the level they feel most comfortable with, whether that means making a large contribution or a small one," Harper said.
Ed Oley, president and CEO of Mercy Regional Medical Center, who serves as the 2011 campaign chairman, told an estimated crowd of 400 that "time and talent will be as valuable as financial donations."
Harper said United Way will again work with major longtime corporate partners including Invacare, Ridge Tool, Ford Motor Co., PolyOne and both EMH Healthcare and Mercy to achieve a successful campaign.
Asked if the decision to not set a dollar goal stemmed from the county's continuing economic woes and fears of not meeting a target, Harper said no while taking note of the county's widely divergent demographics.
"We have some of the most affluent communities and some that are really struggling, which is why the goal is to help as many people and good causes as we can," Harper said.
Despite the lack of a dollar goal, United Way ideally hopes to match or exceed the
$2.7 million raised in 2010, which was a 3.2 percent increase over 2009, Harper said.
Looking to make giving as effortless as possible, United Way will promote its online
e-pledge option, along with contributions by credit card, check and payroll deduction.
"The idea is to make it no muss, no fuss," Harper said. "We want to keep things simple."
Before, during and after the program, attendees sampled wings from seven Lorain County restaurants in a "Battle of the Wings" contest to declare a "Best Wings" winner by popular vote.
Hamburgers, hot dogs and other food were available for nonwing fans.
As they ate, the crowd was entertained by the Elyria High School Pioneer Marching Band, which performed as it processed through and out of the showroom, which was dressed up to resemble a football stadium complete with green turf (indoor-outdoor carpet), yellow goal posts and photo images of crowds at an unidentified football stadium.
"I think it's Wisconsin, judging from all the red," Jim Bass joked.
President of Mike Bass Ford, Bass said the football-themed event was decided on when the date of the kickoff luncheon coincided with the start of high school football across the county.
"We put down 500 square feet of carpet" to cover much of the showroom floor that normally holds 12 to 15 cars and trucks.
The event marked United Way's first-ever themed kickoff, but the second to be hosted by Bass Ford.
"We did one about 12 years ago," Bass said. "We're happy to do this, given all the good work United Way does for this county."
In coming weeks and months, the campaign will further identify specific organizations among its 30-plus agencies and programs and needs to be targeted during the 2011 effort, Harper said.
"You'll be seeing more on this as we go along, but in general we will be looking to focus on the areas of education, health and income stabilization," Harper said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.