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1 UNITED WAY ORGANIZATION HITS GOAL; OTHER 2 ARE SHORT AS DEADLINE NEARS

While one of Niagara County's three United Way organizations has exceeded its 2004 goal, the other two are below projections and hoping for a major last-minute push to take them to the top with just one day left.

The Eastern Niagara United Way went over its goal of $1.1 million by $33,233, according to Mark Malonek, president. The campaign ended Wednesday.

But the other two United Way organizations -- Niagara and the Tonawandas -- were below the goals for their campaigns, which end Friday.

The United Way of Niagara was at 86 percent of its $975,525 goal, said Philip D. Buffone, vice president, and needed to raise $111,000 more to meet its goal. The United Way of the Tonawandas was at 70 percent of its $430,000 goal, with $129,000 still needed.

"We've got 30 percent to pick up in two days. It's very difficult, with all the cuts our agency has taken over the years," O'Neill said, also noting all of the job losses the local economy has suffered in recent years. "People have to take care of themselves first. They don't have the little bit of surpluses they used to have. It's been going down for a long time. Unfortunately, it has not stopped. I don't see it going up."

United Way of Niagara officials earlier expressed some optimism that the decline was stabilizing. Now, with the disappointing returns to date, Buffone said the United Way of Niagara's 17 member agencies will see "significant cuts if we fall short of our goal." The United Way of Niagara funds more than 50 programs and services through its agencies.

"It just seems that things are going slower than usual, and we just need everybody's help," Buffone said. "Anybody who hasn't given yet or has not received a pledge card for one reason or other can call."

Mark Malonek, Eastern Niagara president, expressed gratitude for all the donors who came through for his agency.

He said he is lucky to have Delphi Thermal & Interior and First Niagara Bank in his service area. Delphi and Local 686, United Auto Workers, led the campaign by raising $396,522, and First Niagara exceeded $200,000 for the first time this year. Employees of Niagara County and local school districts also were major contributors, Malonek said.

"We're so lucky we achieved victory. Everybody wants to pat the United Way and the volunteers of the United Way on the back, but it's not us. It's the people who give that make this happen. We have to recognize our donors. Those individual donors who are willing to pick up a pen -- that's what makes this possible," Malonek said.

e-mail: jscelsa@buffnews.com

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