UNIVERSITY PARK — Having a job does not always mean the bills can be paid. For many people, racking up debt or going without is a part of life when the paycheck does not cover fixing the roof, replacing a refrigerator, and buying medicine or groceries. To address some of these concerns for Centre County, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Penn State teamed up with the Centre County United Way to hold a donation drive for Centre Helps, which assists community members who may be facing impossible choices.
OLLI at Penn State, a unit of Penn State Outreach, is a volunteer-driven membership organization open to all members of the community who are 50 years or better, offering intellectually stimulating courses, trips and social activities. Brynn Rousselin, director for OLLI at Penn State, said Centre Helps was chosen as the beneficiary of the donation drive by OLLI members.
“The OLLI Volunteer Committee decided to hold a Valentine’s Day themed donation drive to help boost contributions for Centre Helps,” Rousselin said. “Giving back to our local community is something that resonates within OLLI. We are so proud of our members and their friends who collected $1,800 in grocery gift cards, plus food, COVID-19 sanitation supplies and other items including candy for Valentine’s Day. COVID-19 safety guidelines for the drive included a socially distanced drop-off with scheduled time slots.”
Wendy Vinhage, executive director for the Centre County United Way, said the organization is grateful to OLLI at Penn State for providing much needed items to one of its partner agencies.
“Centre Helps is our local social service hotline and they take calls from all over the county to make sure essentials such as housing and food are addressed,” Vinhage said. “Some of these calls are from people who we describe as ALICE: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. They are working hard but are one paycheck away from financial crisis. The most recent ALICE report that was released in January 2021 showed that 28 percent of Centre County households are ALICE and 17 percent of our neighbors live in poverty. These numbers were pre-Covid, meaning more of our friends and neighbors are falling into the ALICE category.”
Sandy Lopez is the chair of the OLLI at Penn State Volunteer Committee. She and Steve Weidman, a volunteer for the United Way, served as organizers of the donation drive. She said one of their shared goals is to promote volunteerism and civic engagement amongst retirees.
“As an organization dedicated to lifelong learning, OLLI is interested in our broader community and how we can make a difference in it,” Lopez said. “I am new to Centre County, so this project has been such a good way to see other OLLI members in different roles, to make new friends and to learn more about our community and the organizations it serves.”
Weidman said designing the drive with a Valentine’s Day theme was a fun way to raise awareness and increase donations.
“I was inspired by the generosity of our neighbors, as well as the enthusiasm of the volunteers and staff who were a part of the donation drive,” Weidman said. “Both the United Way and OLLI at Penn State offer retirees a meaningful way to get involved, meet new people and contribute to our community. Hopefully we made the holiday a little sweeter for those in need.”