By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
The United Way of East Mississippi's annual pledge drive to raise funds for area nonprofit agencies ends in February and the agency is nearly $500,000 short of its $1 million goal.
"We are almost done and we have a long, long way to go this year," said Sara Carmichael, campaign/community impact director for the agency. "We have made and gone over goal the last two years and I am scared people have gotten comfortable."
United Way of East Mississippi funds 14 nonprofit agencies and numerous programs in Clarke, Kemper and Lauderdale counties, many of which rely on the United Way donations to make it through the year.
"If we don't fund them, we won't have them," Carmichael said of the nonprofit agencies. "I think sometimes that just becomes rhetoric to people. They don't know how real that is."
Some of the local agencies United Way funds include the Red Cross, South Harbor Shelter, Wesley House, Feed By Faith, Salvation Army, LOVE's Kitchen, Hope Village, Meals on Wheels and the American Red Cross, to name a few.
"We greatly appreciate United Way's support of Red Cross," said Gordon Stewart, Readiness and Response manager for the East Central Chapter of the American Red Cross Mississippi Region. "We are grateful to United Way and all of the citizens in our community who help us provide Red Cross services to those affected by disaster."
Greg Bott, United Way of East Mississippi campaign chairman for 2013, said one of the things he is most concerned with is ensuring donated money is used in the best way possible.
" I’m proud to say that over the past several years, our fundraising expenses are just over 5 percent, one of the lowest in the state,” Bott said. “This means that more and more dollars go to programmatic activity such as education, income stability and health issues."
United Way raises funds for nonprofit agencies that provide services to the community. Local community leaders sit on an allocation grant committee that determines which agencies will receive funding, said Thad Quarles, executive director of United Way of East Mississippi.
Last year, United Way of East Mississippi topped its fundraising goal of $950,000 by $16,000.
All of the funds were spent locally. And while contributions have dropped over the past few years because of the economy, the need for nonprofit agencies that help area residents is greater than ever, Carmichael said.
"The need is huge," Carmichael said, adding that people don't have to give much to make a difference.
"If someone just wanted to give $10 a month, that's a $120 annual donation that would provide services to 14 different agencies," Carmichael said.