Making Change in the Community

We hosted the 60th Annual Community Services Institute, with dozens of activists from across the Commonwealth.  In Philadelphia, conference delegates joined their brothers and sisters of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) at a rally outside Hahnemann University Hospital.  The Hospital, one of the few maternity wards in Philadelphia, is a crucial healthcare provider in North Philadelphia, critical to an underserved community.  This public health crisis calls to mind the importance of our community services work.

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Responding to the needs of those in the community is a key function of the union movement, and nowhere is that more evident than in our community services work.  Our members take care of their community, their family, friends, and neighbors.  As PASNAP and their fellow Philadelphia unions are mobilizing to save the hospital, it’s not just about the jobs of thousands of healthcare workers, they are fighting to save a vital community resource. 

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At the 2019 Community Services Institute, union activists attended training on resources for veterans, addressing the opioid epidemic and the reintegration of the formerly incarcerated.  Young union activists held a panel at the institute on engaging young members in our work, offering opportunities for growing leadership, and the issues young workers face in our economy today.  Workshops were held on techniques in volunteer mobilization, fundraising, and public promotion. 

Most importantly at the Institute, participants had the opportunity to work with one another and discuss their own community services projects, share their experiences and learn from one another.  Our own Community Services Labor Liaisons also shared their expertise in a closing panel.  The attendees also held a project of their own, packing hygiene kits for the Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia, which helps identify underserved, homeless, and at-risk veterans in the community. 

Here are some of the projects our Community Services Labor Liaisons do in their community:

United Way of York County Community Service Labor Liaison Karen Overly-Smith

“As part of the April 1 thru May 31, 2019, Food Drive Coordinators appointed by NALC Branch 509 and the Community Service Labor Liaison helped to organize participation with 20 food pantries and arrange collection sites at larger manufacturing facilities with union workforces. Food Collection bins were dropped at worksites. Union participants were encouraged to wear their union logo so that the community is aware of the contribution of organized labor. The food drive campaign kickoff was launched with York Mayor’s office and food pantry site, York County Commissioner’s Food Drive Proclamation, Pennsylvania Capitol Rotunda press conference and print media sources.  May 4th worksite meeting at the post office to promote engagement by letter carriers and rural carriers.”

United Way of the Capital Region Community Services Labor Liaison Dave Madsen

The past few months have been busy in the labor community. Working together, the Harrisburg Central Labor Council and United Way of the Capital Region held several donation drives to make a positive impact on the lives of our friends and neighbors.

On May 13, the National Association of Letter Carriers held its annual “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive. Letter carriers picked up nonperishable food during their daily postal routes across the Capital Region. This year, the letter carries collected 12,887 pounds of food, surpassing their goal of 10,000 pounds. The collected items were donated to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and will provide more than 10,000 meals for those in need.

Throughout the spring, members of the Harrisburg Central Labor Council and United Way staff and volunteers collected items for children’s first aid kits. The kits will be distributed to local families in need through Contact to Care, a community pilot project to help increase access to health care. On June 1, AFSCME District Council 90 Community Services Committee gave out donated clothing at a picnic at Sunshine Park in Harrisburg. Local residents were able to receive much-needed items for themselves and their children.

Thank you to everyone who made donations and rolled up their sleeves to volunteer.”

United Way of Southwestern PA Community Services Labor Liaison Jim Blatnick

“Each year at our Labor Council we hold two major community services projects including our Labor of Love “Stuff the Bus” Toy Drive, our Workers’ Memorial Day Program, and our participation in a United Way project that usually entails a park rehab in an underserved community. We hold our toy drive during our December monthly delegates meeting night. ATU Local 85 commandeers a 60-foot Port Authority bus that they decorate, and we have the delegates bring toys that they have collected at their worksites and Union Halls throughout our Labor Council to fill the bus. Our Workers’ Memorial Day Program is held in Market Square in Downtown Pittsburgh during lunch. We have a planning committee of volunteers who meet approximately 6 times starting in January and meet up to the week before our event on April 28th. And lastly, each summer we team up with the United Way and help refurbish a park in an underserved community. Usually our local Job Core program provides heavy equipment and  young men and women learning to prepare themselves for a career in the Union Trades amongst many Local Union Members come together on a Saturday morning to paint, pull weeds, spread mulch and do whatever it takes to make a safe park for kids to play in.”

Former United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey Community Services Labor Liaison, Now PhilaPOSH Executive Director Nicole Fuller

“Over the past 7 years, the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO/United Way Community Services Committee worked on 4 signature projects each year.  I’ll highlight our Shoe Box Decorating Event/Mother Day Gift Boxes, an idea from a participant in my first CSI as a Liaison.  Volunteers come together to decorate shoe boxes that would later be filled with a variety of items like toiletries, jewelry, journals, pens, candles, small picture frames, etc.  The boxes are decorated with different materials, beads, ribbon, feathers, and yarn.  They would always start out by stating “I’m not that creative” and before the event was over they are in competition with each other or wanting to take the materials home, so they could make another box.

Once the boxes are decorated and filled they go to Women In Transition (WIT).  WIT’s mission is to empower women to attain safety, equality and justice, and build independent and self-sustaining lives for themselves and their children; and to pioneer collaborations with community partners to create intolerance of gender-based violence, substance abuse and poverty.

Each year there are about 30 women in their program.  We aren’t allowed to hand-deliver the boxes to the women, for obvious reasons, but the staff would be so excited to see the boxes each year.  Over the years, after the women received their boxes, I would get notes from some of them thanking us for thinking of them.  Every time there was at least one that said this was the first gift she’d ever received.  That always brought tears to my eyes.” 

Community Services of Organized Labor Director Jean Martin, President of the Lancaster Central Labor Council

“Each year we coordinate organized labor in the Christmas Angel project.  The project is in coordination with the ARC of Lancaster County.  The ARC provides us with cards that include gift suggestions the age and sex of the person.  We receive the cards at the beginning of November.  The persons that ARC represents have mental and physical challenges and most live in group homes.  We usually take the older people that many times are forgotten because they may not have living relatives.

Local Unions and Individual Members request cards and then shop, wrap and return the gifts the beginning of December so the caseworkers can distribute them by Christmas, this past year Labor Council provided gifts for 250 people.  The gift wishes are mostly simple inexpensive items that they ask for but are very appreciative to get a gift for Christmas.

This project grows in numbers of Locals and Individuals that want to be a part of it each year.  We have been doing this project for over 10 years and started with 25 cards.”

United Way of Erie County Community Services Labor Liaison Ron Oliver

This is our 2nd year of working with the Mental Health Association in feeding the homeless.  We provide a Christmas dinner and Organized Labor purchases, cooks, and serves the food, and passed out Christmas gifts to all. We also support and the “Little Free Library” project,

It’s a take a book, return a book, gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book and bring back another book to share. Organized Labor, and United Way of Erie County held a small ceremony in placing a “Little Free Library” at East 23rd & Holland Street, Erie, PA. (Holland Playground) Great TV and News coverage.

Six years ago, we began hosting a Veterans Breakfast, thanking the men and women who’ve served our country in honor of Veterans Day.  The first year there were 80 Veterans who participated, we now serve 250+ Veterans, spouses, and family members each year.”

If you or your local are making a difference in your community, please let us know.  Contact Samantha Shewmaker,, or call 717-231-2867.