THANKS to hard work and a sense of purpose, United Way of Central Maryland met its goal of $39 million in workplace payroll pledges last year, a 4.2 percent gain over 1997. This is a tribute to the dedication of the volunteers assembled by the year's campaign chairman, Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee and a former Baltimore County executive. And it's a challenge to next year's team, headed by J. Scott Wilfong, president of Crestar Bank's Maryland region.
But it is no laurel on which to rest. This region continues to lag behind national standards in giving through the network of agencies that serves community needs government does not.
The St. Louis area raised $56 million in pledges to its United Way last year, despite 150,000 fewer contributors and a lower per-capita income.
Although 87 Central Maryland workplaces conducted their first campaigns, two-thirds of companies employing 50 workers or more still don't participate.
So the challenge is set for higher goals and participation, before the prosperous economy heads south.
United Way is not the only way to give to charity, but it comes with the most guarantees of scrutiny and effectiveness.
To strengthen that, the umbrella agency has decided to focus on four areas of need -- children, families, work force and crises. This reflects a thorough assessment of the community's priorities.
Everyone has learned not to count on government. That means we have to depend on ourselves, working together. Hitting the $40 million neighborhood was an advance. It just isn't where a region as large and prosperous as Central Maryland belongs. This year, we should aim higher.