Economy doesn't prevent local charity for reaching its mark

They made it.

Despite harsh economic conditions, volunteers helped the United Way of Greater Kansas City make its 2008 campaign goal.

Actually, they helped surpass the goal and set a Kansas City area record.

On Thursday, United Way of Greater Kansas City campaign leaders announced that volunteers had raised $40,529,036, which exceeded the $40.5 million 2008 goal.

JoAnn Gann, area vice president for the Eastern Jackson and Cass counties United Way of Greater Kansas City office, marked her 15th campaign in the area – but this year was different.

“In those 15 years, I have never seen the economy the way it is and the things that people are having to deal with,” Gann said. “We had some people really step up.”

At several area companies that help United Way with its campaigns, many employees deal with everyday instances surrounding the economy, such as paying more for groceries and gas, Gann said. 

“We had people really deciding at this point, ‘Do I buy gas to go to work, or do I buy food for my family?’” she said.

Several local companies contributed to the record-setting year in greater Kansas City. The ATK Lake City Army Ammunition Plant in Independence raised $114,472, which is 32 percent more than plant employees raised in 2007.

The Government Employees Hospital Association in Independence raised $183,570, which is a 21 percent increase compared to 2007. Karen Schuler, GEHA communications manager, said she has contributed to the association’s United Way campaign for about six years.

Schuler said GEHA employees received strong support from management during the United Way campaign.

“I think that’s real important for a locally run campaign that the leadership think it’s important,” Schuler said. “We’ve got a corporate culture at GEHA that we really want to help people. We work in health insurance, and we help people every day – I think that really carries over into programs like this one.”

GEHA participated in its United Way activities in August and early September. On Sept. 11, GEHA employees had a United Way luau – in the rain – on U.S. 24. Employees who contributed 1 percent of their annual income were eligible for a trip to Hawaii, Schuler said.

“We’re trying to make the event more fun for employees and increase not only the monetary contributions but also the people participating,” she said.

The United Way campaign provided an opportunity for companies like GEHA to contribute and help those who are less fortunate, Schuler said.

“One of the things we tried to communicate is that you don’t have to give a lot to contribute, and you don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference,” Schuler said.

Though the annual campaign has officially ended, Gann said opportunities still exist for United Way contributions year round. To donate financially or to volunteer at area United Way agencies, visit www.kcunitedway.org.

“A lot of them are going to need volunteers throughout the year,” Gann said. “There are lots of opportunities to help beyond dollars.”