BROCKVILLE, ONT. -- The United Way of Leeds and Grenville kicked off its 2021 fundraising campaign on Wednesday, with help from a local corporate sponsor, to feed those in need.

A kickoff celebration was held at Loaves & Fishes on Front Street, with mayors from eight municipalities throughout Leeds & Grenville on hand as well as MPP Steve Clark.

Leeds & Grenville United Way Executive Director Trish Buote is excited to get started.

"This community has always been very, very generous and we hope they are going to continue to step us up," Buote said.

Corporate sponsor 3M is partnering with the organization for the first two weeks of the campaign. The company, which manufactures N95 masks and other items like tape, employs more than 350 people in Leeds and Grenville.

With the success of their Harvest Lunch program in western Ontario, helping that United Way branch for the past 17 years, they've brought it to eastern Ontario for the first time.

"Last year we pivoted to a virtual event, our new Harvest Lunch, where all our purchases are made online and we buy lunches for those in need in our community," said 3M Canada President and managing director Penny Wise.

"The success that we've enjoyed both in person and virtually, we looked at expanding that to other communities that 3M has a big footprint," Wise said. "Here in Leeds-Grenville between Brockville and Perth, we have a tremendous number of employees who are dedicated to the community, want to serve, want to volunteer and this seemed like the natural place to bring our harvest lunch to kickoff the untied way campaign in Leeds and Grenville."

The United Way and 3M team will work with six agencies including restaurants until Sept. 30, with a goal of delivering 1,000 hot meals to those in need.

"If we can exceed the thousand, even better, because that means we can feed more people," added Buote.

Loaves & Fishes in Brockville kicking it off on Wednesday serving up a hot meal of pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans.

"We'll probably have about 160 meals that go out into the community today, so we are really happy to be a part of this," said program supervisor Laurie Prichard.

She also noted the need to help feed people has grown in the region throughout the pandemic.

"When we first started March of 2020 throughout COVID, we were serving 65 people. We went up to about 240. Right now it's about 160 to 180 daily, but i see that increasing as the weather starts to get cooler as well," Prichard added.

Produce for the meals were donated from Tincap Berry Farm, and Tait's Bakery dropped off box loads of free bread.

"I just think this is a fantastic event, so happy to be the kickoff but happy it's supporting so many wonderful organizations in the community that need it and restaurants as well," Prichard said. "The fact that it's helping in so many ways, not just us."

More than 30 3M volunteers from the region were helping the cause, peeling apples and carrots inside.

"Not only are we helping those in need in our community who use the services of the United Way, we're also helping businesses get back on their feet here in our community as well," added wise.

"Each week, each restaurant, each catering company is going to create something different and provide a full hot meal to those who need it," she added. "(the volunteers) are people from here in our community in Brockville and Leeds-Grenville who are getting back out and supporting the community in which they live work and play."

Buote said the campaign goal for the 2021 United Way campaign is higher than it was for 2020.

"Our target is $885,000, so it's over a 20 per cent increase over last years," she said.

"We're hoping by the end of the year to meet our target, and that comes from a mixture of workplaces that do great stuff for us, individuals and corporate donors who help us get there," Buote said.

"We raise every dollar in this community and all the money that we raise stays here, so we have a pretty lofty goal and there is a greater need this year," she added.

Buote said anyone you know looking for help, or a meal, to call 211 or reach out to United Way of Leeds & Grenville office at 613-342-8889.

"We will help navigate them for you and will go to the agencies that they need," Buote said. "We'll take the call on your behalf. Whatever needs to be done, we will help you out."

For anyone wanting to donate to the 2021 campaign, or purchase a meal for someone in need, head to the United Way's Leeds & Grenville website.