By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Local agencies that receive funding from United Way of Hill County are working on ways to deal with a fund drive that fell far short of its goal.
"It could seriously affect us here because we depend on about 65 percent of our finances through them," said Donald Low, coordinator of the Feed My Sheep Community Soup Kitchen. "It'll make quite a dent in what we can afford to do here and we can't do here."
The soup kitchen is one of nearly 20 agencies that receive funding through United Way. Low said United Way funding helped the soup kitchen serve 14,000 meals last year.
United Way treasurer Robert Floren said the drive raised about $77,000 in pledges and donations, far short of its goal of $123,375.
"It was pretty disappointing," Floren said.
United Way extended its drive in mid-December, when it had raised only $63,000, to the end of December. The deadline also had been extended in the two previous years.
United Way received $105,000 - short of the goal of $110,000 - in its 2001 drive after it moved the deadline to January 2002. It raised $87,000 in its 2002 drive, which ended that December. The goal that year was $126,000.
Floren said United Way increased its goal in the last few years to try to help agencies already struggling because of cuts the Legislature made in their budgets while balancing the state budget.
Lori Henderson, who was president of United Way during the last fund drive, said that after other fund raising was included and bookkeeping completed, United Way ended up with about $87,000 to distribute this year.
The United Way board in January examined the funding goals set last year for each agency and made across-the-board cuts in what it planned to give, Henderson said. She added that it was a very emotional session.
"It was like losing my own money," she said.
Christy Keto, 2004 president of United Way of Hill County, said the donations people made are appreciated, but the shortfall is difficult for the agencies that are funded.
"All of those agencies rely on that money," she said.
She said people can still make donations to United Way, which will then be shared with the funded agencies.
Low said he worked on several funding drives last year, including the United Way drive. All were difficult to get pledges for, but United Way was the most difficult, he said.
Keto also noted that local organizations are having difficulty reaching their fund-raising goals. She said that's probably due to the struggling economy and the declining population in the area.
United Way is forming a campaign committee to try to come up with some new ideas for raising funds next year, she said.
Other programs United Way helps fund include the District IV Human Resources Development Council domestic abuse program and the HRDC mentoring program, the Havre Food Bank, the Bears Paw District of the American Red Cross of Montana, Boy Scouts, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Golden Triangle Mental Health, the Salvation Army, People First and the Hill County Therapeutic Riding Association.
The end result of the cuts is that agencies are trying to figure out how to adjust their programs or find other sources of money, agency coordinators and directors say.
"The funding for our program is so tight that any cuts cause a strain in our staffing, which results in cuts to services to the community," said Lori Evans, director of HRDC's Child Care Link. "That impacts children and families."
Evans said Child Care Link is looking into other ways to raise money, but doing so is difficult.
"We have not implemented other cuts at this time. We're just trying to ride it out," she said. "Other fund-raising things are very difficult for us because we're kind of stretched, but we're always looking for other fund-raising opportunities because it's necessary."
Among other services it provides, Child Care Link trains child care providers in the community. Evans said that is crucial because the groundwork for children's future learning is laid at such an early age, and can be affected by the quality of child care.
Because of the budget shortful, Child Care Link may have to begin charging child care providers for some services, she said.
Don Bleak, director of the Havre Food Bank, said the food bank's request was nearly cut in half. The food bank requested about $7,500 from United Way and received a little more than $4,300, he said.
"It makes it more difficult," Bleak said.
The food bank receives a lot of food donations and cash donations for food, but its greatest need is for money to cover overhead, he said.
Last year the food bank paid about $4,000 in utilities, and ended up $15,000 over budget because of that and other expenses, he said. The cost overrun was covered by an HRDC contingency fund, something the food bank can't continue to rely on.
The food bank distributed between 65,000 and 70,000 pounds of food to people in the Havre area, he said, not including items like perishable food that was picked up individually rather than in food boxes.
Bleak said the food bank is considering other ways to increase its monthly income, including selling memberships with recognition for different amounts of monthly donations, like a silver membership for $25 a month or a gold membership for $50 a month.
Vicke Schend, president of the Bears Paw District of the Red Cross of Montana, said her organization will have to do more fund-raising to make up the difference. The United Way funding helps Red Cross pay for health and safety classes and for local disaster assistance, such as when a family's house burns, she said.
Low said the soup kitchen holds other fund-raisers - a fund-raising dinner was held at St. Jude's Church on Sunday and collection boxes have been distributed throughout the community - but donations are low right now.
The soup kitchen receives donations of food, he said, but that doesn't help with overhead like its lease payment to the Salvation Army and utility costs and insurance premiums.
He said community involvement is strong - about 45 people donate time working at the soup kitchen each month - and 45 to 75 people eat there each day. He regularly sees people from along the Hi-Line at the soup kitchen.
"We do everything we can here to keep the ship afloat," Low said. "It would be a real shame where something would happen where we had to shut this down here for any length of time."
Floren said United Way donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1131, Havre, MT 59501, and that people can make a pledge over the phone by calling 265-6561.