Phil Martinez has been a United Way supporter for 47 years. His involvement began with one of United Way’s workplace campaigns that lets employees donate to the nonprofit organization through payroll deduction

When Martinez was in St. Joseph Power and Light’s payroll office signing up for employment on Oct. 19, 1972, the question if he wanted to donate to United Way of Greater St. Joseph was first met with hesitation.

“They asked for Fair Share. Fair Share back then for me was $3.27 — big money for me,” Martinez said. “I asked, can I give $1? So I started out at $1 a month, far from the Fair Share.”

Since then, Martinez has worked his way through the three tiers of United Ways pledges: Fair Share (0.006 percent of income), Fair Share Plus (0.008 percent of income) and Super Giver (0.01 percent of income).

“I have no second thoughts about donating now for the organization,” Martinez said. “Anyone that’s been in (United Way) for 20, 25 years, you helped thousands of people, individuals, families, get back on their feet and put food in their mouths.”

United Way Campaign Director Renita Neville joined the organization more than three years ago. Martinez was kind of a legacy when she started, Neville said, and the reputation held true.

“Phil doesn’t ever turn down an opportunity to connect with people,” Neville said. “He is very involved in a lot of things even beyond United Way. But he’s always making volunteering, always making United Way a priority, which is special.”

Martinez has been a United Way volunteer for much of his adult life

“I started this before I was married in ’83. My wife is deceased now, but she never had a second thought about me taking time for the organization,” Martinez said. “She did all she could while she was still with us, and now it’s my turn to help, maybe do a little extra, but it’s working.”

Martinez retired from St. Joseph Power and Light, now called KCP&L, after 38 years. Despite the end of his employment and the opportunity to donate through his workplace, Martinez continues to give, although he said many will stop once they retire.

“They just totally quit,” Martinez said of some employees near the retirement age. “I’m going, this doesn’t hurt one bit to continue donating. If you believed in it while you were employed, believe in it now unemployed. The need is still there.”

Even small amounts help, according to Martinez.

“Every dollar helps. I started at $12 a year, so I can’t really begrudge anyone for only giving $5, it all helps,” he said. “Next year, it may be more, that’s how mine went.”

Martinez himself has no plans to stop volunteering for United Way and donate what he can.

“The only thing that’ll keep me from standing on a corner with a bucket or going to rallies for businesses will be some sort of physical handicap,” he said. “So far, so good.”

Jessica Kopp can be reached at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com

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