By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The president of United Way of Hill County is hoping donations and pledges in the last two weeks of December will make up for a very slow start of the organization's 2003 funding campaign.
"It is going very slow. We are only at half of our goal at $63,000," said president Lori Henderson.
United Way has extended the deadline for the 2003 drive to the end of December, but that will make it difficult for the organization to plan its budget, she said.
The United Way board generally meets early in January to allocate its budget to the 19 Hill County agencies it supports. Henderson said the budget needs to be set quickly so the groups United Way supports can prepare their own budgets.
"Obviously, some agencies will not get what they need and need to start figuring what services they will have to cut," she said.
United Way increased its goal from about $110,000 in 2001 to almost $126,000 last year and $123,375 this year. Henderson said a reason for the increase above the 2001 goal was to help make up for cuts in government money for programs United Way helps fund.
All of the money collected by United Way is used for local programs.
Vic Miller, executive director of District IV Human Resources Development Council, said HRDC will work to keep services if United Way funding falls short.
"We do what we do when we get a bunch of cuts and still try to get the services provided to the people. Funding cuts are something we live with all the time," he said. "We'll look at it and we'll have to make the adjustments, figure out how to keep the operations going."
United Way supports four programs administered by HRDC: Child Care Link, the domestic abuse program, a mentoring program and the Havre Food Bank.
Evelyn Havskjold, director of the North Central Senior Citizens Center, said two programs United Way supports at the center could have serious problems if the United Way funding falls short.
United Way supports Meals on Wheels and in-home health care provided by the center.
The United Way shortfall last year would seriously have hurt the services if some other people hadn't stepped up to help with the program, Havskjold said.
She said the combination of the increasing average age of the Havre population - several of the people served by the center's programs are in their 90s or 100s - as well as increasing costs and cuts in state programs make the United Way funding even more important.
"For some of these people, we're the ones that provide the meal for the whole day," she said. "So (missing the United Way goal) would have a drastic impact. You might say we're treading water right now."
She said a combination of factors worsen the problem. Senior citizens face increasing utility bills and the cost of medications, and might depend on the food from Meals on Wheels and the in-home health care to make up the difference.
When aid in one area is reduced, it increases the need in the other areas, she said.
"It's a Catch-22," Havskjold said. "One thing affects another."
Inflation affects the senior center programs too, she added. When utilities or workers' compensation costs go up, that reduces the amount available to spend on the actual meals or in-home care.
The need for United Way funding is so important that the senior center did away with its usually annual drive for Christmas gifts for those in need, she said.
"This year we asked them to give to the United Way instead, because United Way is so important and needed," she said.
Other programs United Way supports include the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen, Golden Triangle Mental Health, the Salvation Army, People First and the Hill County Therapeutic Riding Association.
This year isn't the first time United Way of Hill County has struggled to meet its goal.
United Way in November of 2001 extended its deadline to the beginning of 2002 because it was $52,000 short of its goal of $110,000. By the end of January, the donations jumped to about $105,000.
In 2002, United Way ended up about $38,000 short of its goal, with about $87,000 collected. That was after a very slow start, with only $27,000 collected by Nov. 8.
Henderson said she hopes people in the community will step up again this year, whether it's through payroll deductions, single donations or otherwise.
"Last year people really came through," she said. "We almost made our goal last year and it was because of the community."
She said she sees acts of generosity every year that warm her heart and makes her want to keep working with United Way. For example, a recent food-basket raffle raised $375, and the person who won donated the basket to the food bank.
"That's what makes you keep doing it year after year," Henderson said. "It's about the people and it's about the community."
For more information about making a donation, call United Way at 265-6561.