United Way uses Charity Tracker program to keep up with needs

CONWAY — When someone asks for financial help from the United Way of Central Arkansas or one of its agencies, a computer program makes it easier to see if that person is truly in need.

Maret Cahill-Wicks of Conway, United Way executive director, said a software system purchased about a year ago helps weed out people who have legitimate needs from those who are trying to milk the system.

It’s called Charity Tracker, and Conway Corp. paid for the software, which costs $7,000 a year, Cahill-Wicks said.

“It is the coolest thing we put in place, and we didn’t even know how cool it was going to be,” she said.

“We put it in place last year after the tornado. As we all know, when a tragedy like that happens, good people come out of the woodwork, but so do people who want to take advantage. We started in Mayflower, here in Conway and also in Vilonia, and started offering it to churches and agencies,” she said.

“Say I’m a bad person, and I say, ‘I need $150 to pay my light bill.’ I pay you $50, and you put me in the system, and I go to the next church and say, ‘I need $150.’” She said a church employee can look in the computer system and say, “I see First United Methodist Church has paid you $50, so you only need $100.’”

Cahill-Wicks said 80 organizations are included in the database.

“We just included The Salvation Army, which we’re really excited about. We’re going to keep adding.”

The service is free for agencies and organizations to access, she said.

Cahill-Wicks said a woman came into the United Way of Central Arkansas office in downtown Conway recently and said she couldn’t pay her bills.

“My resource director got on [Charity Tracker] and was taking her information and said, ‘It looks like you’ve already been to First United Methodist Church.’”

The woman said yes, she had.

The resource director asked the woman how applying for disability was going, and the woman said pretty good.

However, the United Way employee told the woman, “You told Peace Lutheran you were applying for that a year ago.”

Conversely, the program can help people who have a need, Cahill-Wicks said.

“We had a young lady come into our office after we had [Charity Tracker] only about six months. She was in there with her caregiver, and she was in a wheelchair. The caregiver said her wheelchair is falling apart; it was being held together with duct tape — we could see it.”

The caregiver said Medicaid wouldn’t pay for another wheelchair for the woman for two years. Cahill-Wicks said a United Way employee took the woman’s information and called her doctor, who confirmed that was true.

The Conway woman’s information and need were entered into Charity Tracker.

“A church in Mayflower came forward and offered her a wheelchair within 15 minutes. Probably, her caregiver would have never gone there because it’s outside their thought process. What a blessing,” Cahill-Wicks said.

“Now that they know [Charity Tracker is] out there, we’re having people call to see if they can place their need on there, and people saying, ‘Oh, shoot, I can get caught,’” she said. “When we help, we need to be careful how we help.”

She said Conway Corp. “has promised” to make Charity Tracker available for three more years to the United Way of Central Arkansas.

“It’s helping so much of the community,” she said. The system has other capabilities, such as scanning inventory for food pantries, that Cahill-Wicks said she hasn’t explored.

“I think there are so much more possibilities,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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