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United Way raises $968,000

Despite one of the worst economy of decades, the United Way of Mower County had one of its most successful fundraising campaigns in history.

Thanks in large part to contributions from local businesses, the United Way campaign raised $968,000 — a 7 percent increase over last year, according to board president Diane Baker.

“With all the economic uncertainty, we at the United Way were not sure how the community would respond,” she said. “Would we be able to help those in need? The answer, thanks to a strong and clear base, was yes.”

With the struggling economy, United Way leaders chose to freeze their campaign goals at $910,000 when they started the campaign less than a year ago.

“As we were going into the fall, we knew that we had a relatively stable employer base here, but we also knew that many places were in hiring freezes, and people couldn’t could be much more conservative with their gifts,” said Executive Director Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt. “We really just asked people to match — if they were able — their gift from last year.”

However, the thermometers tracking the drive have all reached the top, thanks to what she described as the best campaign year she’s been a part of.

A large portion of the contributions came from area businesses, the largest three being the Hormel Foods Corp. corporate offices drives, the Hormel plant drive, and the drive at Quality Pork Processors. QPP had a its most successful drive in history by raising more than $150,000, up 26 percent from last year.

However, Lighthizer-Schmidt said a number of area businesses contributed, and she said the people who solicited for donations at area businesses were a key reason why the drive was successful.

Because of the economy, Baker said she believed many people were thankful to have a job and were more willing to give to charitable causes.

Lighthizer-Schmidt thanked all the staff, board members, businesses and individuals who contributed to the drive for their participation.

Thanks to the record fundraising year, Baker said the United Way was able to increase it’s investment to the community, giving more than $711,000 to 61 area organizations. Six of these organizations were newly added to the United Way’s long list of recipients, including a program to help families that are divorcing and a program that aides senior citizens who live outside of Austin.

The United Way lead a number of successful community drives in 2009. The United Way awarded 45 preschool scholarships were awarded in the community, and for the first time, 16 of them were given to children outside of Austin, Baker said. In a collaborative effort with public health, developmental materials and other supplies were given to new mothers.

The largest group ever — 232 volunteers — completed 38 projects on the fourth Day of Caring, Baker said. More than 500 people participated in the Get Fit, Be Fit program.

Since the United Way’s fiscal year ended March 31, Lighthizer-Schmidt said they’re going to take a break before starting the 2010 campaign.

After the annual meeting, the United Way officials took time to celebrate. Then, a meal was catered by Hy-Vee with drinks provided by Apollo Liquor & Superette. They then took some time to thank those who contributed to this year’s drive and acknowledge some of the things that went on this year.