By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — The United Way of Greater Niagara announced a funding goal of $1.3 million for the 2012 United Way Community Care Campaign Thursday at the Niagara Falls Boys Club.
Carol Houwaart-Diez, the president of United Way of Greater Niagara, said the work the United Way and the many nonprofits that they support do in the community underscores the need for the campaign.
"People in our community of every age and from every walk of life are faced with challenges that are insurmountable," Houwaart-Diez said. "As our community and societies continue to change those challenges do not go away. It is in helping our neighbors overcome their obstacles that we can realize our vision of a stronger, healthier community."
The campaign has raised more than $1.4 million each of the past two years.
Dr. James Klyczek, president of Niagara County Community College, will be the chairman of the campaign.
"When the people of Niagara County need support and a helping hand, undoubtedly they benefit from a program, service or agency that is supported by the United Way of Greater Niagara," he said.
Houwaart-Diez also announced an additional $60,000 in grants to local nonprofits in the area.
Western New York Heroes, a nonprofit that provides support services for veterans returned from service, was given $11,000.
Chris Kreiger, the president of the organization, said that many returning veterans find it difficult to get a job because of injuries suffered during service.
"We're there to kind of bridge the gap and ease the burden for these veterans and their families so that they're not losing their homes, they're not having their utilities shut off," he said.
The funding will be used to help veterans exclusively in Niagara County, Kreiger added.
"If we can turn off our lights and close our door at the end of the day and know that we've assisted another veteran or family member and ease burden with them, then in my opinion we've done good," he said.
Local food pantries will be getting $28,000 of that funding. Sister Beth Brosmer is the director of Heart and Soul Food Pantry and Dining Room, one of the 20 pantries that will use the money to fill its cupboards.
Brosmer said that her pantry has seen an increase in the number of people using the food assistance for the first time in recent years.
"They're brand new people," Brosmer said. "They've never been to a place like Heart and Soul where they need to ask for food assistance."
At the same time the pantry has seen a drop in donations, Brosmer said.
"We often have people who have never used these services or who are employed but can't make it," Brosmer said.
The Niagara Community Action Program received $8,000 for utility assistance programming.
Suzanne Shears, the executive director of the not-for-profit, said that this funding is like gold for the organizations and the people that they serve.
"Every year we see more and more families and many of them are working poor families and have jobs but can't make ends meet," Shears said.
Jerald Wolfgang, the chairman of the board for United Way of Greater Niagara, has been involved in fundraising efforts for the organization for years. He said that fundraising has become more difficult in Niagara Falls since large companies like Carborundum and Occidental have either shrunk or shut down.
These industrial sites gave large gifts and their employees were unbelievably good," Wolfgang said.
As where fundraisers could count on large donations before they now have to look for donations from many smaller companies and individual residents.
Wolfgang said that the state of the economy has put extra strain on the organizations that help people in the community.
"There's no question that it's a reflection of the economy," he said.