COLUMBIA — In the midst of one of the country’s worst economic downturns, mid-Missouri volunteer organizations are asking their fellow citizens for $3.3 million.
The Heart of Missouri United Way launches its annual community campaign Friday at the Tiger Hotel and will rally an estimated 150 volunteers to begin recruiting their friends and neighbors to donate to the cause.
The charity sponsors 31 agencies which provide support for mid-Missouri’s needy citizens, including youth, the disabled and others, according to Heart of Missouri United Way executive director Timothy Rich.
The organization has raised funds for human service organizations for more than 60 years, but Rich said a rough economy has hit the charities from all angles. While agencies are experiencing spikes in the number of families to care for, they are facing budget cuts at the state, federal and potentially the local level.
“The United Way wants to provide stable funding to help our agencies weather this economic storm,” Rich said.
Rich is confident that the mid-Missouri community will rise to the occasion. Although the GivingUSA Foundation survey from June reported charitable giving fell by 3.6 percent last year nationally, the campaign has consistently raised more money each of the last 49 years, Rich said.
Agencies say the donations are coming not a moment too soon.
Cindy Mustard, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, one of the partner agencies, said that this August the center provided services for 153 families who had never been to the center before and that 23 percent of all the people who have come in this year are brand new.
“We’ve seen a steady rise in the number of families who come to the center for various services,” said Mustard, who has co-chaired the campaign for close to a decade.
The United Way will donate $93,600 of the $3.3 million to the center. This donation is equal to nearly 20 percent of the center's $486,200 budget.
Most of the money will come from companies who encourage their employees to opt-in by automatically deducting a chosen amount from their paychecks. MU is the Heart of Missouri United Way's largest corporate donor, according to the charity, with 3,565 university employees participating.
Rich said that he believes that one of the reasons United Way continues to work is because of its appeal. “We have an incredibly generous community.”