By Rhonda Petersen
The Hill County United Way fund-raising campaign is off to a very slow start.
Since the fund-raising drive kicked off on Sept. 27, the nonprofit organization has raised $27,000, according to Hill County United Way executive director Bob Rice.
The organization's goal is to raise $125,945 by the end of November. Rice said that unless something changes, he doubts it will be able to reach that total and will likely have to extend the fund-raising drive or cut the amount it gives to the 20 organizations it helps support.
The two groups that would be most hurt by cuts in United Way funding would be children and the elderly, United Way treasurer Robert Floren said.
"We're bleeding and in need," Rice said.
At this time last year, Rice said, the United Way had already raised $50,000. The $23,000 difference between this year to last is particularly notable since last year's fund-raising drive was hampered by the events of 9/11.
Rice blamed the slow start this year on the fierce competition for limited charitable resources. Rice said people are being constantly bombarded by requests for donations from charities. In recent weeks he personally has received requests from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Disabled American Veterans, all seeking donations.
"You can only go to the well so many times," said Rice, who is mayor of Havre.
If the United Way fails to meet its campaign goal, the 20 local organizations that rely on the United Way for much needed cash will see reductions in their funding, he said.
"The percent we're short is the percent we'll have to cut from each organization," Rice said.
Floren said he was surprised by the slow start to the United Way fund-raising drive. He had thought the much-needed rain the area received earlier this year might have made Hill County residents more willing to open up their wallets and contribute to the United Way.
"I hope they didn't give all their money to 9/11. The community needs it," he said.
Floren said last year's fund-raising campaign eventually was so successful that the United Way decided to accept funding requests from two new organizations, the Court Appointed Special Advocate Association and the Bear Paw Youth Guidance Home.
The Hill County United Way made last year's goal of $100,000 after extending the campaign a month.
The money raised directly affects the community, Floren said.
"All the money remains in Hill County," he added.
Most of the organizations' requests for funding were the same or smaller than last year's. The organizations carefully determine how much money they think they will need and ask for only that amount of money, Floren said.
One of organizations that would be harmed by a cut in United Way funding is the North Havre Community Food Bank.
"A reduction in funding would limit the amount of food we're able to buy," manager Don Bleak said. He said the money the food bank receives from the United Way is primarily used to purchase food and also helps cover general expenses.
Floren added that some United Way organizations such as Child Care Link already have had their funding cut by the state. A cut in their United Way funding would further hinder Child Care Link's ability to increase the availability and quality of child care in the community.
Tom Bolan, executive director of the District IV Human Resources Development Council, said that with the recent state and federal funding cuts to many agencies, organizations are being asked to increase their funding from local donations.
But, Bolan said, the organizations that receive funds from United Way have agreed not to conduct their own fund-raising campaigns while the United Way is holding its drive. If the United Way has to extend its campaign, agencies like the food bank must wait to try to raise money.
"Local funding cuts are going be very difficult to absorb," Bolan added. He also said another consequence of state and federal funding cuts has been a greater need for the services provided by many United Way organizations.
Rice said he plans to install the thermometer sign that tracks the United Way's progress at City Hall on Monday. He added he hopes the sign will serve as a reminder to people that the need is still great for donations. He said people will be able to drive by the sign and see exactly where the fund-raising drive stands.
Rice also said that any local business interested in learning more about the payroll deduction program can contact the United Way. The United Way's payroll deduction program allows employees of participating businesses to have their United Way pledge deducted from their paychecks. The donor's employer then forwards the money to the United Way.
People who would like to make a donation to the United Way can call the United Way office at 265-6561 or drop off a check at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce. Donors should make checks payable to the Hill County United Way.