What We Do

The United Way Movement

The first organization that evolved into United Way began in Denver in 1887. Leaders from the religious community along with volunteer citizens came together to respond to growing and more complex human needs. No longer could family members or neighbors alone informally deal with the growing health, housing, juvenile delinquency, mental health, and other needs that faced them. The response would have to be organized and collective.

An economic revolution had created unprecedented human need and required a revolutionary response which created United Way’s greatest value – Our ability to bring together individuals and institutions to respond to human need and potential – and it has lasted for 120 years!. It is what makes United Way relevant and unique.

Community Chests (and other forerunners of United Way) brought public officials, business leaders, religious leaders, organized labor, human service agencies and others together to identify and respond to the most pressing issues of the day. In the early to mid-1920’s human service agencies began raising money together through Community Chests to address issues. They raised more money at lower costs than previous less organized fund-raisers. In the 1950’s payroll deduction for workplace giving was created and the amount of money raised sky rocketed.

In 1970 local Community Chests, United Planning Councils, United Funds, Torch Drives, Crusades of Mercy, and others came together under one name and became, United Way. Today United Way is comprised of 1,400 locally independent organizations in the United States and 3,000 affiliated organizations in 44 countries around the world. There are 16 million donors in the U.S. investing almost $4 billion annually.

United Way of Merced County

July 23, 1954 Merced United Givers, Inc. was incorporated and thus was the birth of United Way in Merced County. In 1961 the name was changed to Merced County United Fund, Inc. In 1974 it was changed to Merced Area United Way and in 1997 it became United Way of Merced County.

In the early days the organization represented the various charities for which it was raising funds. Through the years, the emphasis changed agency desires to donor desires. Additionally the funding shifted from supporting agencies to supporting selected programs of agencies.

An all volunteer committee of community representation review the applications of non-profit human care service agencies who are requesting funding for one of their programs. Then the agencies make a verbal presentation followed by questions from the committee. The committee then makes a funding recommendation to the Board of Directors for approval.

What United Way of Merced County Does for the Community

  • In summary United Way of Merced County works to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of the community to foster health, education and financial stability. Major programs and initiatives include:
  • Provide financial support to worthy non-profit charities through cash awards and donor designated gifts. Help start up charities by acting as their fiscal agent until they are able to obtain their non-profit status with IRS. Collaborate and partner on non-profit charity projects and programs, Including providing training and meeting facilities.
  • Provide low-income families whose prescription drugs are not covered by insurance with discount cards that save them up to 75 % at most pharmacies.
  • Annually operate a free income tax service for low income families that provides them with tax credits (funds in addition to withholding) to improve their economic stability.
  • Implement a great family fun day with the annual Red Nose event where families can enjoy a Happy, Fun family event. 
  • House and staff the Merced Site of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program that works with schools, government and other interested parties to improve children’s diets and provide them with greater physical activity opportunities.
  • House and staff the Merced Site of Building Healthy Communities, a ten-year project of The California Endowment, to establish places where children are healthy, safe and ready to learn in four low-income communities of Merced County (Planada, Le Grand, South Merced and Beachwood/Franklin).
  • Chair the local board of the national Emergency Food and Shelter Program that distributes federal funds to local providers of emergency food and emergency shelter.
  • Work closely with the Merced County Food Bank and the many emergency food pantries to assure adequate, nutritious food for those in need.
  • House and staff H2H program for chronic homeless persons.


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