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United Ways scrambling to meet goals

Soaring gas prices, higher heating bills and other cost-of-living expenses are cutting into annual contributions to the three United Way organizations in Niagara County.

With campaign deadlines less than a week away for two of the charitable groups and a month away for the third, all three are scrambling to reach their goals.

"It gets harder and harder every year," said Carol G. Houwaart-Diez, who has been with the United Way of Niagara for 21 years, the last four as president.

"When you have gas and groceries going up, you have to make choices, but there are people in need every day," she said Friday. "We're counting on those eleventh-hour contributors who dig into their pockets and give whatever they can afford."

The United Way of Niagara, based in Niagara Falls, reached last year's goal of $887,000 on the last day of the campaign, said Philip Buffone, the group's vice president. A similar scenario is expected for this year's goal of $890,000.

At midweek, the campaign had raised 65 percent of its goal, Buffone said. The money is used to help support 17 member agencies that provide more than 50 programs for people in need.

The organization raised $6,000 from basket auctions at a recent gala for the annual Holiday Lights of Niagara show, being displayed for the first time in the city's Hyde Park from Nov. 21 to Dec. 31.

It will hold its community care luncheon at noon Friday in the Conference Centre Niagara Falls. Pledge cards will be accepted after that day.

The United Way of Eastern Niagara has reached 80 percent of its goal of $1 million, Mark Malonek, the president, said Friday.

Anticipated layoffs at Delphi Thermal Systems in Lockport prompted the organization to lower it's goal from last year's $1.1 million, he said.

"We knew the Delphi buyouts would affect us," said Malonek, referring to early-retirement packages offered to hundreds of workers at the auto parts factory. Delphi is still the organizations's biggest contributor, however, with $205,000 already in from employee contributions. Corporate and retirees' contributions have yet to be collected.

New contributors are hard to come by, said Malonek, who is heading his 19th campaign.

The Lockport-based organization funds 16 member agencies that provide nearly 60 programs for those in need.

A community celebration breakfast will be held at 8 a.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn on South Transit Road in Lockport.

The United Way of the Tonawandas has reached only 63 percent of its $400,000 goal, George O'Neil, the executive director, said Friday.

"We need a big push," he said.

The number of people who use a service supported by the United Way of the Tonawandas has increased in the last two decades from 49 percent of the population to 60 percent, he said.

The organization funds 14 agencies that provide 32 programs for people in the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda and part of the Town of Tonawanda.

Last year, the organization fell seven percent short of its $430,000 goal.

"With the cost of living and base wages rolling back, it's harder to find that usable dollar people can afford to give," O'Neil said. "But small amounts add up and if we don't help each other, God help us."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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