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Volunteer Spotlight: Marian Galbraith

The former mayor of Groton, Marian sets an example as a leader in community engagement. She took time to talk to us about her volunteer experiences and how United Way’s initiatives have impacted people in her community.

Hi! Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been involved with United Way?

My name is Marian Galbraith. Although I have given to the United Way for a long time, I really became involved with United Way when I was mayor of the City of Groton.

How did you first get involved here at United Way of Southeastern Connecticut?

I have always been a person who gave money. I know that’s called philanthropy; I don’t have pockets deep enough to be a philanthropist, but I always believed in giving. And what bothered me was not being able to give enough, to be able to give all the worthy causes there were. And one day United Way came to my school, Groton Public Schools, to talk about us being part of the Groton Public School campaign that year. And I realized that when you give to United Way you could give to all the different organizations that were really important to you, because when we give together you can really impact so many more people. So although I could only give a little bit to a few organizations if I did it by myself, I could give a lot more to a lot more organizations through United Way.

Tell us a little about your experience on the Board of Directors.

I’ve been on the board just about a year now. Other than sitting on the board meetings, I’ve worked on the audit committee. I think one of the things that’s really important about the board is it’s a really good way to understand just how much work goes into really serving the community. With the decisions that are made about what organizations we can assist with, the decisions that are made about supporting people, how many people are out there, and I think [for example] the ALICE initiative has brought so much to our community- the understanding of how widespread the need is, that the people who are next to you, your neighbors, are the people who are ALICE. They’re the people who need assistance, and what it takes to offer that assistance is a real level of commitment, and the United Way really steps up.

Why do you give back to your community with United Way?

So I’m gonna talk a little bit about what happened when I became the mayor of the City of Groton. So the City of Groton had been participating in United Way for quite a while; my predecessor, Dennis Popp was a big supporter of United Way. And when I first came we decided we were doing the kickoff and they invited Gemma Moran. Now Gemma Moran is a name that everyone knows in this area, or should know, but to meet the real Gemma Moran was really inspiring because she is a real live hero. She is someone who has made a tremendous impact on this world and to meet with her means that you want to emulate her and you want to do the same. So we kicked off our campaign in Groton but we also decided to do something different, and that was to give our employees time off to volunteer with United Way. So each month we sent volunteers, and I was often one of them, to the Gemma Moran warehouse to prepare the truck for the Mobile Food Pantry. And the Mobile Food Pantry would come on the fourth Friday of every month to St. John’s Christian Church and we also sent volunteers there, Pfizer was also involved, and together the City of Groton volunteers and the Pfizer volunteers took care of the distribution of food for the Mobile Food Pantry at St. John’s Christian Church.

One of the things we realized soon after I was mayor, or I realized soon after I was mayor, was that the
City of Groton was a food desert- that we did not have fresh produce within a mile’s walking distance for a lot of our residents, and that was something I wanted to solve. And quite fortuitously I was working with Cindy Barry of Ledge Light, [and] Jennifer Blanco came on the stage. Now Jennifer Blanco is a former student of mine, but this was before the Mobile Food Pantry had started, and she came to talk about whether we could have a Mobile Food Pantry in the city. And I believe the launch, the very first, was before there were real official places but I think, check with Jennifer, but I think we had the first one at St. John’s Christian Church. And so we worked together; I contacted the pastor of St. John’s Christian Church, Joe Coleman, because he was a big supporter of doing things for our community as well. And together, working with the management of Branford Manor, the St. John’s Christian Church, Ledge Light, United Way and the City of Groton, we established that food pantry that goes on to this day. I think that’s a real example of how people can work together to solve a problem that’s related to food for families in their communities.


What’s your favorite thing about being involved with United Way?

I think the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is working at the Mobile Food Pantry. You know, I as a mayor, I got to see my constituents, but more than that I got to see my former students- I taught for 35 years- I got to see their parents, I got to see people I worked with, and I came to understand just how widespread the need for food is. A lot of families that I thought were doing okay were really kind of living on the edge, and the ability to get this fresh produce on a monthly basis and really stock up was so appreciated. You know, you can feed your family on a little, but you can’t feed them well on a little. And United Way takes care of that gap, providing the produce. And to be able to hand out vegetables, to be able to talk to people in line about how you can cook kale and what you can do with your beets that’s fun and exciting, and what do you do with, you know, zucchini and all of those things. And you know, some of these things were different: what do you do with kohlrabi? What do you do with parsnips? But we could talk about those things, and it was a great way of connecting with the community and feeling good. You know, one of the things that the Mobile Food Pantry does really well is treat people with respect. I don’t think anybody who goes to the Mobile Food Pantry feels like they’re accepting a handout. I think it’s made to make them feel as though they’re going to the famers market, and that’s a really great feeling to be part of that.


What would you say to someone who might be considering volunteering?

I’m gonna tell just a story about the city volunteers who used to go [volunteer with United Way]. You know at first it was ‘Well, you know, maybe I’ll just go because I’m gonna be out of work for an hour or two while I’m over there at the Mobile Food Pantry, at the food pantry itself helping out.’ But one after one people came back feeling really energized and enthused, and feeling good about what they were doing. It also builds a real sense of comradery amongst those who went, that we were working together on something bigger than our ordinary jobs, all of which were important, important jobs, but sometimes you need to step away from what you do every day to understand the importance of what you’re doing. And being a volunteer helps us to do that, helps us to make a difference in the world around us, and this a really visible, very permanent and concrete way to find out what a difference we can make.


What does ‘Live United’ mean to you?

It means that we work together to be a community, that we address our community, that we help our community, and that when we’re together we can give so much more and do so much more than we can by ourselves.