Crucial year for United Way Ten weeks: That's how long the charity has to collect $39.1 million in pledges.


THIS YEAR could prove decisive for the ability of private philanthropy and the universal charitable impulse to replace big government. Welfare reform puts some people back on their feet but increases the hardship for others. They will depend on the best impulses of their neighbors in Central Maryland, as expressed through the United Way pledge of payroll deductions.

These donors become more elusive as big work forces downsize and more work takes place in partnerships, start-up firms and home offices. As its responsibilities rise, United Way's volunteers have a more daunting challenge finding the willing donors.

United Way is the most effective way yet found to organize a community's resources in addressing needs through voluntary giving of time and money. Last year, some 275,000 donors used it to support 302 programs serving 600,000 people in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

Where United Way volunteers selected the program, they can vouch for where the money went, what it did and the effects it had. But donors with their own preferences can direct their donations to specific health and human services agencies in Central Maryland. Any other system of giving inevitably would mean more money diverted for fund-raising, less knowledge of what it accomplishes and many more annoying dinner-time phone calls with pitches for obscure causes and agencies.

The United Way organization is trying to tighten the campaign into one that seeks more funds than last year -- $39.1 million. It VTC begins earlier and ends ten weeks afterward. The search is on for small and medium-sized businesses, often start-ups, that have not had campaigns before. It is no secret that when jobs and people move to the suburbs, human service and health needs follow them. The money is spent close to where it is raised.

The outpouring of grief and mourning taking place worldwide for the Princess of Wales, cruelly killed before her time, is a tribute to her relentlessly selfless work for many charities and people in need. The way to respect someone like that is not through mindless adulation but thoughtful emulation -- especially in small ways, close to home.

It is admirable to journey to Bosnia to hug a child injured by a land mine. But there are homeless, illiterate, hungry, troubled, ill, uncounseled people in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties. They can be helped through giving of time and money from those fortunate enough to enjoy steady work. Most will respond positively to generosity and caring. If their neighbors don't provide it, no one else will.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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