Through the work of numerous volunteers and the generosity of the community, 40 programs from 26 local agencies will benefit this year from funds collected by the United Way of Union County.

Through the work of numerous volunteers and the generosity of the community, 40 programs from 26 local agencies will benefit this year from funds collected by the United Way of Union County.

According to campaign and public relations director Dave Bezusko, the total community support from the United Way will exceed $634,000 this year.

"That is within $3,500 of 2009 totals despite a recession-plagued fundraising campaign that still managed to come within two percent of last year's record-setting collection," Bezusko said.

That meant stretching available dollars even farther, said Barb Nicol, volunteer co-chair of the United Way's community investment committee.

"We were able to spend donor dollars in ways that give the best return on the donors' investment, choosing the services that do the 'most' at the 'best price,'" Nicol said. "This year especially, I saw agency staff doing more and more with dwindling resources - because they understand the need."

United Way of Union County fundraises throughout the year to support programs in four areas, including emergency and basic needs, youth services, senior services and health and human services. Impacting more than 16,000 Union County residents annually, the campaign's donations help pay for food, shelter, personal needs, after-school programming, child care, meals and socialization for seniors, medication, hospice care and support groups.

Bezusko said that volunteers had to decide how to divide donor dollars among agencies' program requests that were $149,086 higher than the amount available, and 24 percent higher than what United Way provided a year ago.

"That means maximizing the money that was available by scrutinizing how they could get the most bang for your charitable buck," Bezusko said. "So instead of looking at an agency's overall funding request, volunteers analyzed each specific program request within that agency. By reviewing and funding each line item individually, the volunteers were able to focus on funding particular needs."

The Salvation Army's Homeless Prevention Program is now United Way's top-funded program at $60,000. It provides rent and utility assistance to local residents who have an eviction notice or a utility already shut off, according to Bezusko. Overall, the Salvation Army will receive $79,896.

The American Red Cross Union County Chapter will receive $33,000 this year for its Disaster Services, which include response to individual families who suffer a house fire and wide-spread community preparation for floods or other natural disasters, Bezusko said. Overall, the American Red Cross will receive $76,800.

Funding to programs that provide emergency and basic needs will receive $241,396, or 38 percent of the allocated monies. The Youth Services Impact Area will receive $142,250; Health and Human Service programs will receive $137,000; Senior services will receive $40,300; $62,580 will be spent on other local United Way programming, according to Bezusko. Donors designated $10,796 to other United Ways around the state.

"The need for safety, food, and shelter has increased and those programs certainly took a priority," said Brian O'Kane, a long-time committee member. "We started by trying to cover the most critical human needs while continuing to provide for the wants of all worthwhile programs. Past funding levels played a very small role this year."

Officials with the United Way are projecting a final 2009-10 fundraising total of $825,000. That's less than 2 percent off last year's record-setting campaign of $840,000, but 8 percent short of the $900,000 goal, Bezusko said.

"We have a very giving community," said first-year volunteer Diane Hutson. "This past year has been a very difficult year financially with economic struggles. Even though we were below our goal the amount of money raised was incredible. Individuals and businesses reached deep in their pockets to support the United Way regardless of their own financial concerns."