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Downturn hits United Way
Campaign may not reach its goal of $600,000
FOOD BANK Biz
Sue Brannon, right, and Dot Simmons put together a package at the Statesboro Food Bank last month.The Food Bank is a United Way agency. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    There are many victims of a souring economy, but few feel it as swiftly or perhaps as harshly as those that depend upon the charity of others. Economic indicators point to unemployment rates, inflation and deflation, as well as interest rates, but these indicators do not reflect the impact that is felt by the charities that many count on for their survival.
     One of the most prominent charities in Bulloch County and around the country is the United Way whose mission is to facilitate people helping other people achieve basic human needs. The Bulloch County United Way provides significant funding to 19 local nonprofit organizations/agencies, and its CEO Bob Olliff is anticipating a marked decrease in donations in 2009.
    "The bulk of our donations come through employee donations via payroll deduction in which employees pledge a certain amount every pay period," Olliff said. "We are clearly running behind what we had hoped for this year."
    Olliff said that this year's pledge campaign will be completed by year's end, so he isn't sure what the final total will be, but he does anticipate a decrease that could be as much as 20 percent or more below 2008 contribution levels.
    "Who is to say what the final number will be, but we are behind in our campaign goal and given what is going on throughout the economy, we have to be realistic and anticipate a reduction in donations for next year."
    Olliff said last year the Bulloch County United Way raised over $600,000 in support of local charities. He is expecting a far lesser amount this year.
    "The reality is we might be looking at $480,000 to $500,000 at best," he said. "That is a significant decrease, and I am afraid that we are not going to be able to pass on as much as we have in the recent past to those local agencies that we support. These agencies provide meaningful and substantial services, and it is going to be very tough to reduce their funding when I know firsthand the very good job that they do."
    One of those agencies that may be facing a reduction in funding is Med Connection. Med Connection is instrumental in helping those who cannot afford their prescriptions, or those who may need help understanding Medicare.
    Med Connection director Sheri Hendrix said her agency relies on the donations of the United Way.
    "We apply for grants from various nonprofits like our local United Way, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, and the Hospital Authority," Hendrix said. "We depend on those organizations, and they have been very helpful. It appears that we may face a reduction in our funding, and that is disappointing as the number of people seeking our services is increasing every day."
    Hendrix said she is seeing many more clients that have lost jobs or insurance coverage who need help with securing medication for themselves or family members.
    "It hasn't been until recently that we have had unemployed folks coming to us," Hendrix said. "That hasn't been our demographic. Traditionally, we would see people who couldn't afford their medication, because they are on a fixed income. Now we are seeing unemployed people, and they are very concerned, and really just don't know what to do."
    Hendrix said her agency also receives support from a number of local physicians who donate to the organization, but the demand for her agency's services is increasing in a time of decreasing resources.
    One nonprofit that appears to be holding its own for the time being is Goodwill. President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Coastal Empire William Oakley said for now things are status quo.
    "Our donations consist of goods that we can sell to other people," Oakley said. "People continue to be very generous, so we are holding our own as far as donations are concerned. However, as with everyone else, we have no idea what the next few months will bring."
    Oakley said he isn't as worried about donations coming in as he is about those that Goodwill trains.
    "Our job is to provide education, training, and career services for people with disadvantages, such as welfare dependency, homelessness, and lack of education or work experience, as well as those with physical, mental and emotional disabilities," Oakley said. "Once we train people, we want to be able to place them in a job in the community."
    "The economy is making that more and more difficult," he said. "With so much unemployment, it is becoming more difficult for everyone to secure employment. So far the opportunities for our trainees remain present, but I really don't know, and frankly, am very concerned about what the future holds."