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United Way donations down in Eastern Panhandle

December 05, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- United Way of the Eastern Panhandle's annual campaign last week was about 14 percent off the pace of last year's fundraising totals, according to executive director Jan Callen.

And while donations are down from the 2008-09 campaign, increased demand for services provided by area United Way agencies has gone up as the economic downturn has deepened, Callen said.

"I am concerned because I know the organizations (we help) out there are struggling," Callen said.

Applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamp benefits increased by a combined average of 53.9 percent in Morgan, Berkeley and Jefferson counties from July 1, 2008, to July 1 of this year, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The monthly average of SNAP benefits issued in Berkeley County is more than $1.2 million, and Kathy Bradley, community services manager for the Department of Health and Human Resources in the Eastern Panhandle, said the stream of new applications for government helped has not let up in the last six months.

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"We've been hit hard," Bradley said Friday.

Just two years ago, Berkeley County had the lowest numbers of residents in need of help among the state's seven largest counties, and now it has the highest, Bradley said.

And just two years ago, Callen said United Way of the Eastern Panhandle had raised more than a $1 million in its campaign, the most ever.

For the 2009-10 campaign, the organization hopes to raise $882,500 after the 2008-09 tally was 12 percent down from 2007, Callen said. The United Way's 2009-10 campaign will come to end Dec. 15, but final tallies will not be finalized until next year, Callen said.

"I am so grateful for everything we get, whether it's a dollar or $10,000," Callen said. "We don't need donors to give more, we need more donors."

The declines have occurred as the United Way continues efforts to transform its approach to awarding the donated money with the goal of making strategic impacts on the community's most pressing needs.

Money that United Way donors have not designated for a certain agency such as The Salvation Army or Boys & Girls Club, are allocated competitively with the expectation that the funding will lead to improvements in education, health and income needs of the community, Callen said.

In the 2008 United Way campaign, The Salvation Army received the most amount of designated money ($205,588) from individual donors, followed by Hospice of the Panhandle ($37,136), Berkeley County Humane Society ($35,490) and the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County ($23,385), according to the agency.

Afterschool programs, for example, are expected to show not only how many students they have served with the help of United Way funding, but evidence of academic improvement, Callen said.

The "community impact" strategy itself postures community organizations to be much more competitive for private and public grants, Callen said.

With a decline in donations, Callen said the United Way will have to place even more priority on making sure "safety net" agencies, such as food banks and crisis centers, are funded first to help meet the critical needs of the community.

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