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The Daily Tar Heel

Your Town, Community Need Help

The marker shows Triangle United Way donations for this year - and the red bar barely eclipses the halfway mark. The goal is $26 million. The total raised so far: about $14 million.

For the first time in its history, the group had to extend their deadline for contributions by three weeks, until Dec. 13.

It's understandable that the fund-raising campaign hasn't made its goal. A lot of locals gave to New York City-related funds, the Red Cross, and donated blood. Psychologically, many feel they have done their good deeds for the holidays.

And with a slowing economy, people are tightening their belts in order to keep their head above water.

But we cannot forget the charity groups that do so much social work in our own neighborhoods.

These organizations raise a majority of their yearly budgets during the holidays, when people are in the giving spirit.

This year, however, local groups are finding fewer and fewer givers.

It's unfortunate that a group like the Triangle United Way, which gives so much to the community, faces these financial strains.

Roughly 300,000 people annually benefit from United Way-funded programs, which include programs involving education, crisis intervention and the homeless.

The Triangle United Way is a huge funding source for 82 social services groups -- 28 of which are in Orange County.

Since 1995, when the group raised $15 million, they have consistently raised more and more funds. Last year, the total was a little over $26 million.

And since 76 percent of donations come from individuals, the turn of events since Sept. 11 could put many of the organizations which rely on United Way funds in a serious bind.

In fact, some nonprofits already are making cutbacks in anticipation.

One such aid agency seeing increased demand and fewer donations is the Inter-Faith Council in Chapel Hill on Rosemary Street.

During the last three months, the IFC has seen a 31 percent jump in people seeking assistance over the same period last year.

Requests for food are up 56 percent.

And it is not only the really down-and-out that need a little extra help.

Of the applicants at the IFC, 26 percent more have jobs and 23 percent more are first-timers compared to last year.

With the cost of living so high in the Chapel Hill area, many people living off anything less than $12 an hour could easily find themselves in economic limbo.

How many people have to ask, "should I pay rent, or buy groceries?"

And that's where services like the IFC become a matter of eating or keeping a roof over one's head.

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In fact, an annual fund-raising event for the IFC just concluded: Restaurants Sharing V (5) and V (5) Percent Day.

Participating restaurants donate 10 percent of their total sales from Nov. 13 to the IFC shelter. Last year the event raised $22,023 in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Though the final tally is not slated to be announced until Dec. 31, this year's receipts will most likely be lower than last year. After all, only 75 eateries participated this time around -- compared to 105 last year.

A lot of people are going through harder times this year, especially considering how high the economy has been riding in years past.

Social services organizations around the Triangle provide services where governments, both federal and local, fail to meet the need.

They are a crucial backbone of any town or city -- and their contributions usually go unnoticed for much of the year. During the holidays, they ask for a little help from the community.

If you're able, give what you can. It can be a little donation or a few cans of food. These days, local nonprofits will gladly take anything.

And some of your neighbors could use a little extra help.

Columnist Jonathan Chaney can be reached at jhchaney@email.unc.edu.

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