In its heyday, the annual Catholic Charities of Buffalo Appeal could count on an element of friendly competition, with parishes trying to best each other in raising funds for the church's primary human services arm.
But with population migrations away from Western New York, greater movement of Catholics among area parishes and a massive restructuring of worship sites across the diocese, that sense of competition has all but disappeared this year.
The appeal, though, continues, and organizers announced Wednesday they will try to raise $10.5 million for Catholic Charities and other ministries of the Diocese of Buffalo.
The agency will attempt to develop a better connection with donors by introducing those who have benefited from Catholic Charities services, said Sister Mary McCarrick, diocesan director of the organization.
The clients will visit parishes across the eight counties of the diocese as "impact speakers."
"If people see the good they can accomplish, they'll want to be contributors, they'll want to be part of the mission," McCarrick said.
McCarrick was joined by Bishop Edward U. Kmiec in announcing this year's goal in the Lackawanna food pantry, one of dozens of Catholic Charities programs directly aided by the annual campaign.
Food requests at the pantry have increased 20 percent in the past 18 months, and while it receives food for 17 cents per pound from the Food Bank of Western New York, that heavily discounted supply hasn't been enough to cover the need, McCarrick said.
The pantry relies on the appeal to purchase additional food and to provide Sister Margaret Gallagher, a social worker who can refer clients for other services.
Last year, Catholic Charities collected about $10.3 million, falling just shy of a $10.5 million goal. It was the third year in a row that the human service organization lowered its campaign goal from the previous year and still missed the mark.
Fundraising has fallen off each year since Catholic Charities was able to raise $11 million in 2007 -- the last time the appeal met its goal.
Still, Kmiec said he continues to be impressed by Western New Yorkers' generosity.
"Through all these kinds of economic distress, there is a tremendous giving pattern in the diocese that is extraordinary," the bishop said.
The 87th annual campaign will be highlighted April 10 to 17 during Appeal Week 2011 in area parishes, where about 90 percent of appeal funds are raised. It will continue through June 30, the end of the agency's fiscal year.
Typically, about 60 percent of the money raised goes toward such Catholic Charities' services as counseling, anti-domestic violence programs and aid to the poor.
The rest goes to the Bishop's Fund for the Faith, benefiting various ministries of the diocese, including seminary training and aid to urban parishes and schools.