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United Way picnic kicks off campaign

September 03, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- As a retiree, Williamsport resident Tom Perry said his pension's holdings are scheduled to be evaluated, which could result in a reduction in his benefits.

But despite the possible money cut, Perry said he remains committed to donating to the United Way of Washington County.

"I'm going to put it at the top of the list," Perry said Thursday night during a free picnic at Municipal Stadium that was held to thank people who have donated to past United Way campaigns and helped with the fundraising.

Perry's comment was reflective of a positive attitude during the event, which also served as the kickoff to this year's fundraising campaign.

Before the beginning of the baseball game between the Hagerstown Suns and the Lake County Captains, the local United Way offered the picnic for up to 200 people. The guests ate on a tiered deck behind third base on a pleasant sunny evening. The meals were paid for by Keller-Stonebraker Insurance, organizers said.

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Perry, holding a plate filled with baked beans, potato salad and a hamburger, said he has been a previous donor to the United Way campaign.

Perry stood at a drink stand with Steven McCarty of Hagerstown. McCarty said his wife has worked on United Way fundraising campaigns at Washington County Hospital and the couple also have donated to the campaign.

Children who have been assisted through United Way agencies helped with the picnic, which energized McCarty.

"I think it's going to be a good campaign," McCarty said.

But the campaign comes during tough economic times and organizers are aware of that. When asked if he feared the economy was going to make fundraising hard, 2009 campaign co-chair Gregory I. Snook explained how this year's goal has been set at $1.8 million, down from last year's $2 million goal.

"It will be a challenge, but I'm excited about it," Snook said.

Last year's campaign raised about $1.65 million.

"This is not easy work, asking for money," local United Way director Leah Gayman said as she welcomed picnic guests to the ballpark.

Because some people cannot give money, Snook, a former Washington County Commissioner, said he was going to work on recruiting volunteers to help the local agencies the United Way supports.

Mike Harsh, the other co-chair of the fundraising campaign, said the fundraising comes at an important time because "people are hurting." Harsh is a humanities teacher at Hagerstown Community College and he said about half of his students probably depend on services from agencies the United Way supports.

Harsh said he thinks of the United Way campaign as part of the "American dream" that helps people turn their lives around.

"You got baseball. You got hot dogs. You got the United Way," Harsh said.

Snook and Harsh were expected to announce the United Way fundraising goal after Thursday night's game and before the fireworks, Harsh said.

The campaign, which runs through mid-February, usually includes a residential campaign and a workplace campaign where workers at companies can agree to paycheck deductions that fund the United Way.

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