The Champaign Memorial Committee was established in 1961 to raise funds to equip and furnish the newly built County Nursing Home on U.S. Route 68, south of Urbana. Around 2006 the county commissioners sold the property to Vancrest because it was no longer self-sustaining. The Memorial Committee needed to decide what to do with the money the organization had saved.
“We had to decide what to do with that money,” said current board president Bill Miller. “If we were to give the commissioners the money, they had it in mind to build a fountain there at the fairgrounds. To my way of thinking that’s used once a year, and I didn’t see the value as compared to doing things for several groups throughout the county. And I knew we could grow those funds, and we did. That’s when we got together as a board and decided to reorganize instead of dissolving.”
The Champaign County Memorial Foundation has been active in the community since that time, following through on its mission to provide financial assistance to social services, comfort and health care providers, and programs for the elderly of Champaign County, but not limited exclusively to the elderly. According to Miller, the group has given out close to $300,000 in the last 10 years.
“We took that money we were using there and then decided we’d try to do what we can for the whole county, primarily the elderly of Champaign County,” he said. “We provide funding to any organization not-for-profit that does things for seniors. We do provide some to for-profit groups … but it can’t be their main business. We give money to Messiah Manor to do certain things. They’re a for-profit owned by Cornerstone, but we can still do some things for people like that. For Vancrest we still provide funding to do supplements for haircuts and beauty. We also give money to the Caring Kitchen and to the Senior Center.”
Miller, 80, said the 10 board members are volunteers. The foundation has over a million dollars in the bank, up from about $80,000 at the time the county home closed. Donations are made from the interest, without touching the principle. Miller said the foundation has no stocks or bonds performing at less than 5.5 or 6 percent.
Miller retired as a farmer in 2004 and joined the Memorial Committee before it became the foundation. He said that he felt motivated to do something to help senior citizens after volunteering as a tax preparer.
“At that time I was doing volunteer work for taxes,” he said. “I’d see people come in that were living on $6-700 a month, and that’s pretty tough. They were not eating the way they should, so that’s what got me interested in finding out about that. You’d tell even ministers and they wouldn’t believe you, but I knew it was going on.”
Miller said the population of Champaign County is 40,000, with roughly 22-23 percent or 8,000 people senior citizens. Many are living off Social Security, a large portion of which may be spent on rent even if it is subsidized, and some have nobody to help them. When board member June Purk passed away the foundation began a scholarship program so local nursing homes could provide Christmas gifts to residents who had no one else to visit them.
“In a lot of cases seniors can’t work anymore,” he said. “They’re limited on their income. I know a lot of minimum wage jobs have been appearing lately, but some of our seniors just can’t do it. The Senior Center does a lot for them, but usually that’s a little more ambulatory crowd that goes in there.”
The Memorial Foundation receives food donations from Costco and Kroger. Miller takes food to each of the 10 food banks throughout the county every week. These items include bread, produce, fruit, turkey and other perishable items; Miller said he regularly takes them 6-700 pounds of food.
The foundation provided the seed money to start the Oasis of Mercy food pantry at St. Michael’s Hall in Mechanicsburg. The Mechanicsburg Baptist Church also provides the pantry with money and volunteers, and Miller said there are a lot of people throughout the county helping.
“In my mind if you see somebody, help them if they need it,” he said. “If everybody in the county does that, sooner or later we’re a much healthier county.”
The Champaign County Memorial Foundation is always looking for more groups that assist the county’s elderly population. Grant applications are available on the foundation’s website, champaignmemorial.org, including a short form for those who have already received money from the foundation. For more information, visit the website or e-mail Info@champaignmemorial.org.