Opinion

United Way faces uphill battle

We all know and agree we live in trying times right now. With the fight in Congress over health care and economic stimulus; the fight we faced here in Washington over I-1033, budget shortfalls in our cities, counties and state, not to mention the shortfalls in many households, and the enormous challenge and uphill struggle United Way of Kitsap County faces to raise the dollars to support the community safety net through the Annual Community Campaign this year.

Last year, 68 percent of the United Way Campaigns across the country raised less money than in 2007. United Way of Kitsap County was one of those raising less money in 2008 due to the struggling economy. That is the fact that can be seen, but the hidden story is not just less was raised, but that many who pledged support during the campaign are now no longer able to pay that pledge because they have fallen victim to unemployment. That means less money raised but more critically, even less money collected.

As I sit at my computer writing this article, I find this early in the campaign we are already behind last year’s pledges. I am told by our campaign executives, who are graciously loaned to us by local businesses to help raise the needed dollars to support the community safety net, that organizations that welcome us in to talk about the needs of the community are starting their campaigns later this year. This is not a good sign.

Food banks are still seeing a large volume of families needing to supplement their food budgets. The Salvation Army and other feeding programs are continuing to see many more hungry people come through their doors. There are many among us who are homeless and waiting for emergency housing. Referrals to Kitsap Mental Health are up 84 percent. Bankruptcies are double what they were two years ago and foreclosures in Kitsap County have gone from 1.4 percent in 2008 to 5.7 percent in 2009.

There is some encouraging news in the campaign this year as our residential solicitations are up by a third. Harrison Medical Center employees have once again exceeded their stated goal of $162,000 this year raising a record $167,647. So, while the current outlook is not what we would like to see, many who are employed understand the dire needs that face many in our community.

While I am concerned about the state of the campaign this year and the reluctance on some to pledge their support, especially under the current economic conditions, I am encouraged when I receive an e-mail like this from one of our campaign coordinators who has found some difficulty while coordinating the campaign in her organization:

“While I absolutely 100 percent believe and respect an individual’s choice to give or not give, I can’t help but feel sad for the people who can’t see beyond themselves. Humanity is richer when we take care of one another. Money is tight at times but I’ve never done without a meal or a roof over my head.  Too many others can’t say that.

I’m glad the spirit of giving is alive and well in my children. My youngest is having to take money out of savings just to pay the bills these days – her husband has been unemployed since Easter. And, her United Way contribution is the largest in her office. She is also in charge of the angel tree at our church. My oldest daughter e-mails me regularly to help out some poor, disadvantaged young person. The last time was a request to help a young woman (formerly of her juvenile probation case load) who is trying to go to college. Her financial aid didn’t come through so she took up a collection that actually covered the fall term. Some day that young woman hopes to be a probation officer herself. The kindness of others touched her deeply and I know is motivating her to do great things in the future.

This campaign has made me feel good for United Way and even for myself.  It has been a pleasure to give back some of that which has first been given to me.”

When you hear and see information about United Way and our Live United Campaign, this e-mail is a wonderful example of someone who knows and understands the importance of United Way and giving to help others less fortunate in any community. It reflects the understanding of what it means to Live United and that when you reach out a hand to one, you influence the condition of all.

If you are a supporter of United Way, please reach out your hand and give just a dollar more per pay period than you gave last year. If you haven’t given in the past, please consider giving a small gift this year. Your kindness will touch deeply the life of someone in need. In giving, so shall you receive.

David L. Foote is the executive director of United Way of Kitsap County.

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