UNION CITY — The simple act of filling up your gas tank at the Country Fair store in Union City will help fund future improvements to Union City Area High School’s outdoor sports facilities.
Erie-based Country Fair and the Union City Community Foundation now through October are partnering on a “Pump for Charity” event, in which each organization is donating 2 cents per gallon of gas pumped from two designated pumps, to the Union City Area School District Foundation for those athletic complex improvements.
At a total 4 cents per gallon from the two pumps, the expectation is that between $10,000 to $20,000 could be raised by the end of October.
Paul Rankin, Country Fair’s vice president and division head, initiated the discussion with Union City Community Foundation Chairman Steve Jones about collaborating on an initiative to benefit the community. Jones suggested the high school sports complex as a recipient, and the effort was put in motion.
“Last year I had extensive conversations with many of the citizens of Union City and the Borough Council while pursuing a beer license for our store,” said Rankin. “I found that the `can do’ attitude of Union City was infectious and I wanted Country Fair to be part of it.
“`Country Fair Cares,’ our corporate mission, has three parts,” Rankin added. “We care about our team members, our customers and the communities in which we operate. We feel that the Union City Community Foundation is a great partner that has the values that we do.”
The beneficiary of the initiative is improvements to Union City Area High School’s outdoor sports complex. A group of Union City residents in recent months has been collaborating with the school district administration and school board to research those needs, and formed the Union City Sports Complex (UCSC) committee to facilitate the effort.
The UCSC was preparing to launch a community awareness and capital fundraising campaign when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, closing schools and delaying the campaign launch. The “Pump for Charity” event is a way to kick start the fundraising in advance of a larger campaign.
Kyle Blakeslee of Union City is chairing the UCSC committee, and also serves as vice chairman of the UC Community Foundation. Blakeslee said the UCSC’s mission statement is “to foster positive transformation to the school’s outdoor sports complex.”
“We will use our nonprofit status to solicit non-taxpayer funds and act as project managers to facilitate renovations and new building projects that the UCASD would not be able to facilitate otherwise,” the mission statement continues. “Our goal is to support long lasting facility improvements which will enhance the experience of our athletics and adjacent activities, as well as the use of the sports complex as a shared resource in our Union City community.”
Blakeslee noted that upon assessing the needs of the outdoor sports complex, “it became obvious that the most critical need is to address the declining condition of the building used for the concession stand and restrooms. Upon closer examination, we reached the difficult decision that renovation of the existing building is not a feasible option.”
Partnering with a local builder, Blakeslee said a preliminary building plan and budget was created, and a capital fundraiser was about to be launched when the pandemic brought that to a temporary halt. Still, he noted, “the needs remains for our students, and the UCSC looks to launch a formal fundraising campaign in the near future.”
“The UCSC is very appreciative of the financial support Country Fair and the Union City Community Foundation are providing towards renovation of the outdoor sports complex,” he added, noting there is no specific timetable as yet for the work or launching the larger fundraising campaign. “These funds will be used directly for the concession stand project or other needed improvements to the complex.”
The community foundation’s Steve Jones said the foundation board “loved the idea that Country Fair would be so generous as to contribute to our community, and the foundation thought what better way to make this a success than to join in on the fundraising.”
“For those purchasing gas, please consider purchasing your gas at Country Fair at the two designated pumps with the advertising `Pump for Sports,’” Jones added. “Let’s continue to leave a legacy for our community.”
Country Fair has 72 stores in northwest Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and the southern tier of New York. The Pump for Charities initiative is in its second year, with five Erie County charities last year sharing in excess of $135,000. The Union City initiative is the only such event targeted to date by Country Fair to a specific community.
“The Union City pump program will be different for us, as all of the money will go towards the Union City sports complex initiative,” said Rankin.
“Our mission is to be part of the communities in which we operate,” Rankin added, while pointing to a special connection between Country Fair and Union City. “Our founder, Ray McGarvey, was a Union City farm boy who always had an affection for the area.”