Giving to United Way essential in tough times

WHILE THERE ARE hopeful signs of a slow, but jobless, recovery, the economy continues to sputter, and many of those fortunate enough to still have incomes understandably are clinging tightly to their hard-earned dollars.

For some, it might seem an awkward time to ask people to share a little of their wealth to help others. But at times like these, it's imperative that people with big hearts, who understand they're just a job or paycheck away from needing a hand, pitch in to help struggling friends and neighbors.

Even prior to the recession, our community was scrambling to respond to many of its human service needs. Those needs have grown substantially as people have lost jobs, houses and hope. Now more than ever, people are looking to the United Way of the Midlands and agencies and initiatives that benefit from its fundraising to help them through difficult times.

Fortunately, the United Way's approach doesn't require one company or one individual to do it alone. It asks each of us to chip in and help build a safety net for our community. This entire community - from employers to employees to individuals - must help the United Way meet its 2009-10 fundraising campaign goal of $10.2 million so it will be prepared to respond to the community's burgeoning needs.

Funds raised in this year's campaign will address some of the area's most pressing needs as identified in the charitable organization's most recent Facing Facts Survey. The survey identified poverty and the struggle to meet basic needs, access to affordable health care, education for the work force and transportation among the community's top priorities for funding assistance.

The United Way of the Midlands has restructured the way it distributes funds, taking a more active role in identifying qualified organizations to deliver services and programs aimed at addressing these critical needs. The organization supports programs in Richland, Lexington, Fairfield, Newberry, Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

This year's campaign goal isn't as ambitious as it would have been had these been better times. But still it's quite an undertaking that simply won't be met if we don't all pitch in. With giving down this past year, the United Way had to do what many private companies, governments and individuals had to do - cut its budget. It has had to reduce or eliminate funding for several programs. But it continues to provide critical leadership in the ongoing effort to serve our community's most needy citizens.

As people continue to struggle financially and otherwise, they will continue to seek assistance from the various human and social services organizations in our area. The United Way and the agencies and initiatives that it funds provide a ray of hope for many who wouldn't otherwise have anywhere to turn. That ray of hope doesn't originate at the United Way but from the many generous donors throughout our community.

Many of our neighbors, friends and family members who never thought they'd have to seek help are now regularly at the door of Harvest Hope Food Bank and other groups that benefit from United Way funding. Let's all give whatever we can to ensure no one has to be turned away empty-handed.