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United Way optimistic amid Katrina giving

The president of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County remains optimistic that Western New Yorkers will support the organization even as they give generously to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

A month into its annual campaign, the United Way has raised $1.3 million in pledges, Arlene Kaukus, president, announced Thursday.

Western New Yorkers have contributed hundreds of thousands to relief efforts, and Kaukus acknowledged the possibility that donors "might believe they don't have the capacity to do it all."

But she also said local givers have responded before in times of national crisis, namely after Sept. 11, 2001, when they gave record amounts to the United Way campaign while still responding to the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Kaukus also drew parallels between the systemic poverty in the Gulf Coast region, which was made vividly clear by the hurricane and subsequent flooding, and the plight of the poor in Western New York.

"We've got 26,000 families in Erie County and Western New York living below the poverty level," she said. "Those same conditions are here in Western New York. We just don't have a hurricane."

United Way officials also pointed out that several health and human services agencies involved in assisting hurricane evacuees now in Western New York receive significant amounts of funding from the organization.

For the second straight year, the United Way board has decided not to set a specific goal or campaign deadline. Instead, its leaders are pegging the community's needs at $34.5 million and trying to enroll as many new donors as possible.

The most recent campaign ended March 31 and brought in $17.3 million, down from $18.9 in 2004 and $20 million in 2003.

This year's campaign began Aug. 17 on the "Day of Caring," a huge daylong volunteer effort.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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