United Way’s pledges down

By Sharon Salyer

Herald Writer

United Way officials say the agency’s annual fund-raising campaign could end $1 million short of its goal, resulting in program cuts at many of the 52 local nonprofits in Snohomish County it supports.

"With yet another month and a half to go, we are behind where we were last year, and we’re projecting a shortfall," said Brent Stewart, United Way president.

United Way has received pledges totaling $9.6 million, spokesman Mark Todd said. The organization hoped to at least match the amount raised last year, which was slightly more than $11 million.

This year’s campaign ends on Feb. 27. United Way officials will begin meeting next month with member organizations to discuss potential cutbacks. Unless donations increase, local nonprofits could face budget cuts effective early next year.

While operating on less money is always painful, local agencies say they come at a time when layoffs and a worsening economy mean increasing numbers of people will be asking for assistance from food banks, emergency shelters, child care and youth groups, and dozens of other programs funded through United Way.

In addition, some organizations, such as Volunteers of America and YMCA of Snohomish County, had their annual United Way contributions cut this year, so any additional cuts would compound their budget woes.

The loss of nearly $650,000 in United Way funds this year meant cuts to 10 programs at Volunteers of America, including its food bank, emergency shelter, community information line and a summer camp for kids, said Gilbert Saparto, the organization’s chief executive officer.

If VOA has to face a second round of United Way cuts, "that would be a major hit," Saparto said.

"We don’t know to what extent," he added. "We’ll deal with it based on how it comes down."

The YMCA lost $100,000 this year in United Way cutbacks during a year in which it merged with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, said chief executive Jerry Beavers. It could face similar cuts next year, he said.

"The challenge for the YMCA and many other human service providers is how can we continue providing programs and services for kids when there is less funding to do it and there’s greater need," he said.

Deaconess Children’s Services received $330,000 from United Way this year, said Richard Penny, development director. The organization works with parents and families to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect.

"With people losing their jobs, there’s a huge demand for our kind of services throughout the county," Penny said. Any cuts in United Way funds would "make it tough to meet that."

United Way officials say they remain hopeful that the community will still rally. Despite local economic woes, the average gift has increased this year from $220 to $230, Todd said, after remaining about the same for the past three to four years.

Although projecting a shortfall of about 10 percent based on current donations, many donors designate their dollars to specific organizations, rather than the general campaign, Steward said. So it’s hard to say just how big the budget cuts would be to area nonprofits.

The groups will meet with United Way officials early next year. "At that time, we’ll be closer to what that might mean in terms of the actual percentage reductions," he said.

Volunteers are still hard at work to raise money, Steward said. "We’re doing everything we can to close that gap. United Way isn’t throwing in the towel."

You can call Herald Writer Sharon Salyer at 425-339-3486

or send e-mail to salyer@heraldnet.com.

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