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NIAGARA FALLS - In the face of a weak local economy, the United Way of Greater Niagara announced Thursday it is setting the same fund-raising goal as last year, while donating some of its administrative fund balance to area food pantries.
The campaign goal was set at $1.31 million, the organization announced at a news conference Thursday in the Niagara Falls Boys and Girls Club.
President Carol G. Houwaart-Diez said an increase in the goal was ruled out after receiving replies to some of the 150 letters the United Way sent out to businesses, organizations and individuals who have been its most dependable donors in the past.
"They told us things they haven't told the public," Houwaart-Diez said. She learned a story of layoffs, cutbacks and departures of donors.
The goal is 4 percent higher than the total of renewable gifts the United Way would like to think it can count on.
United Way programs assist some 80,000 people each year, or more than one-third of Niagara County's population.
"When the people of Niagara County need suppor and a helping hand, undoubtedly they benefit from a program, service or agency that is supported by United Way of Greater Niagara," said James P. Klyczek, Niagara County Community College president and the drive's chairman.
The campaign is scheduled to wrap up Nov. 16.
"I would like to raise $2 million, $3 million, but that's not the reality in our community," Houwaart-Diez said.
But the United Way has exceeded its goal in each of the two years since it was formed from the merger of the Niagara Falls-based United Way of Niagara and the Lockport-based Eastern Niagara United Way.
The funds those two groups brought into the merger were the source of $60,000 in one-time grants announced Thursday.
Houwaart-Diez said $28,000 will be spread among 20 food pantries in the county.
She said many new people, including some with jobs, are seeking help from food pantries.
"Food pantries across Niagara County are seeing anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent increases in the demand for food," Houwaart-Diez said. "Our board felt very strongly that we are for the working people."
The largest grants went to the largest pantries, but smaller ones will receive help, too, many in the form of credits to their accounts at the Food Bank of Western New York.
Other grants included $11,000 to Western new York Heroes, to support the county's veterans; $8,000 to the Niagara Community Action Program to help people with their utility bills; $8,000 for the People With possibilities summer youth enrichment program; and $5,000 to the 211 Western New York Call Center, helping people find not-for-profit services.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com