TIFTON -- Volunteers and United Way of South Central Georgia, Inc., staff members were attending the agency's annual fund drive kickoff breakfast Sept. 11 when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington.

Since that day, most attention has naturally focused on victims of the terroristic attacks. People have willingly donated money to help those victims. Now, local fund raisers say the need for donations to support the operation of area agencies is critical.

"Our campaign was put on the back burner because the Red Cross is mandated to raise funds in times of crisis," said Luz Marti, 2002 United Way campaign fund chairman. "They are very much dependent on us right now for local operations."

The United Way relaxed its rule which prohibits agencies they fund from raising money once the United Way campaign is on. Many area citizens donated their money through the local Red Cross and specified it for the national disaster relief effort. Pledges to aid local agencies remain low.

Marti said community volunteers and United Way staff members met again Oct. 7.

"We have reported 4 percent of our goal has been pledged to this date," Marti said.

Marti said many of the 27 local agencies funded through the local United Way will suffer if the $375,000 goal is not met. The agencies served 58,000 people in need last year.

"We need to remember that these agencies will be in a lot of trouble. We didn't meet our goal last year either," Marti said. "If we don't meet the goal, all the agencies will have their budgets cut."

Fund-raising efforts last year may have fallen short in part because of the cloud that remained after the former director was fired in 1999 and a criminal investigation that continues.

Marti said present United Way Executive Director Carol Johnson and Administrative Assistant Renee Camarillo are "responsible and well-respected."

"We are in good shape when it comes to personnel," Marti said. "We just need to get citizens behind the effort."

The American Red Cross depends on the United Way for much of its operational budget. The community expects the agency to be prepared in case of disaster.

"God forbid, but if we have a hurricane or a terrorist attack, and with the war in Afghanistan, we need the Red Cross to have funds to communicate with those serving in the military," Marti said.

Barbara Pratt, director of the Herring-Barfield Day Care Center in Tifton, said "it is mandatory" that the center receive funding from United Way.

The center caters to low-income children and United Way funding helps provide the school supplies and food the children need.

"It helps to furnish our kitchen so we can furnish them a good meal," Pratt said. "I hope things (donations) will pick up."

The center provides day care for 2, 3 and 4-year-olds and is licensed to serve 54 children.

Other United Way-funded agencies include the Meals on Wheels program, the Tifton Soup Kitchen and the Food Bank.

"Many of these programs serve hungry people in our area," Marti said.

The House of Grace, located in Adel, provides shelter, work, resource referral and a sense of pride for men.

The agency is a supportive housing program for homeless men with disabilities. Staff members provide the link between psychiatric hospitals, detox centers or jails for people who don't have the skills yet to make it on their own.

"Some of these men need medication managed, life skills, and they need good healthy nutrition and a safe environment," Director Cheri Conger said. "They also need educational opportunities we coordinate through the adult literacy program."

House of Grace works in conjunction with the Department of Family and Children's Services and the Health Department.

Conger said all United Way proceeds are used "in direct service to our clients" in the form of clothing for job interviews, food, schooling and medicines. None of the money is used for salaries or other administrative costs.

"If everybody contributes somet

hing, we will be able to make it," Marti said. "We want people to remember to pledge now and they won't have to begin giving until January."

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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