United Way needs a million

As economy shrinks, human needs increase

Editor's Note: This is the seventh in a series of interviews with people prominent in areas on the agenda for the city under a new administration. This week the discussion on fundraising for non-profit agencies is with United Way President Frank Lazarski.

When you took over at United Way in 2003, a local company gave you a check for more than $500,000. This year their donation was a little over $100,000. What has happened to giving in this community?

First of all, let me say that we really appreciate any and every contribution we get, and that while the need has dramatically increased, we understand that giving has become much more difficult in this community.

That company was known back then as New Venture Gear. Now it's known as Magna. I can remember they were proud of the contributions pledged by their employees of $515,000. That was 2003. Recently I met with one of their representatives. The beauty and the sadness of this is that they are pledging over $100,000, and 1,235 employees will lose their jobs sometime between now and 2011.

The year before I started Carrier had the largest campaign with $600,000. You go out to Carrier now and it's almost deserted. They do a great job for us, delivering $100,000, but it's a mirror image of how the workforce and the economy is shrinking.

I think this is indicative of what we've seen in our community over the years. We've been a strong manufacturing community, and we've relied on that for United Way campaigns, and I think folks got in a groove. They would say, "OK, what did I give last year? I gave 50 cents a week. This year I'll give 75 cents a week." They had pride in what they raised, and the company gave out gifts, and there were all sorts of incentives. It was really used as a morale booster for the employees, and to support the community in a variety of ways.

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