Local United Way tops goal despite Katrina disaster|[12/7/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Even a record natural disaster did not stop the United Way of West Central Mississippi this year from surpassing its fund-raising goal.

The local combined charity drive has received $1,500,573.61 in cash and pledges for 2006, topping its target of $1.5 million, executive director Barbara Tolliver said Tuesday.

Vicksburg attorney Blake Teller was the chairman of this year’s campaign that kicked off about the time Katrina swept in from the Gulf of Mexico, followed by Rita.

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&#8220We were concerned with the two hurricanes hitting at the same time, which was right about the height of the campaign,” Teller said. &#8220We didn’t know what effect it would have.”

For three years, annual campaigns had fallen short of their goals, something very unusual for the local effort which has consistently won national recognition for leadership in per-capita giving.

&#8220As it turned out, the people of Vicksburg responded,” Teller said. &#8220This once again proved the generosity of this community.”

The United Way funds or helps fund 22 local agencies and is designed to raise more money than they could individually.

Of this year’s amount pledged, $848,674 has been budgeted to go to 22 local organizations for 2006. Administrative costs are expected to consume about 16 or 17 percent of the total, a lower proportion than the national United Way’s cap of 30 percent, Tolliver said.

The campaign total included $310,105 in donations from federal employees from the United Way’s Combined Federal Campaign. Of that amount, 36 percent will be used to fund local agencies with the remainder going to other agencies that are part of the national United Way, said Susan Ivins, campaign director and a member of the United Way staff.

In addition to the money raised in the annual campaign, the local United Way has received about $23,000 in unsolicited donations specifically for hurricane relief, Ivins said. That amount is being used to supplement grants for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she added.

&#8220If somebody needs a car battery, we’re going to be able to get him a car battery so he can start to look for employment,” Tolliver said when asked for an example of a way the United Way is using those funds.

United Way staff also helped in other ways to coordinate and supplement relief efforts for coastal Mississippi and Louisiana evacuees here.

This community’s United Way typically ranks among the top two or three in the country of comparable size in per-person giving. National rankings on that measure were not yet available for this year’s campaign, Ivins said. There are divisions for giving, but much of the total is raised by workers who pledge a portion of each paycheck to the United Way effort.

In a change from years past, Ivins said, United Way workers decided against having a banquet to celebrate the end of the campaign. Instead, she said, the money will be spent on an advertisement thanking donors.

Division chairmen for this year’s campaign were Easy Biedenharn, Todd Boolos, Mike Curtis, Skipper Guizerix, Steve Gwin, Patty Mekus, Deb Mitchell, Judy Monroe, Omar Nelson, John Paris and Patty Shropshire.

Account managers were Allison Cox, Kisha Craig, Sonya Farrell, Kenya Gaskin, Tom Kendall, Charlotte Koestler, Mekus, Ginny Miller, Alex Monsour, Riley Nelson, Andy Oakes and Tracy Trichell.

The local record for an annual amount pledged was $1,752,000, in 1999.