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Tampa Bay charities suffer dip in donations

The United Way of Tampa Bay is falling short of donations it intended to collect by mid November.

CEO and president Doug Weber said the group, which covers Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, expected to have raised 70 percent of this year's $25.5-million goal.

It has raised about 60 percent.

At a luncheon and press conference today in Tampa, the United Way intends to thank volunteers and corporate sponsors and make an appeal for more money.

"We need people to step up (giving)," Weber said.

There are 134 programs locally that rely on United Way funding, such as boys' and girls' clubs, Catholic Charities, the American Cancer Society, soup kitchens and shelters.

Donations are down nationally. The outburst of giving to Sept. 11 causes late last year meant fewer dollars for some charities unrelated to the terrorist attacks.

Now, donors are giving less because of the weak economy.

"Charity giving is a discretionary thing, so if people aren't sure what their financial status is going to be, it's one of those areas where they cut back," Weber said.

The United Way of Pinellas County and the United Way of Hillsborough County merged in July after decades of separate work. Offices are in Tampa and Clearwater.

Weber said the union was too recent for him to say whether it saved money.

But the downturn in donations had nothing to do with the merger, he said. Donors can still opt to direct their checks to a particular county.

Last year, the separate organizations collected more than $28-million total.

Weber said there were three reasons for the lower goal this year: the end of a five-year challenge grant, the realization that some dollars had been counted twice in Hillsborough and Pinellas and a decision not to include money raised outside the bay area.

The United Way of Tampa Bay is entirely funded by private donations.

The organization gets 60 percent of its budget from employee campaigns in the workplace. Thirty percent comes from corporate gifts and 10 percent from donors outside the workplace, such as retirees and a few foundations.

Weber said the current shortfall might be exacerbated by some corporations getting a late start on workplace drives. But many charities are feeling the same pinch.

Somebody Cares Tampa Bay counts on the United Way, grants and donations for $8,000 a month to haul food to feeding centers.

The Largo-based organization is having trouble paying its bills, said Gloria Baacke, executive assistant.

"There are a lot more people who don't have the finances and aren't able to contribute," Baacke said. "The results from 9/11 are still affecting us. We're struggling."

Jaclyn Witmer, spokesperson for the Salvation Army in Tampa, said the orga nization had collected $26,500 less than this time last year _ a 30 percent drop.

And Metropolitan Ministries, a long-term shelter for families in Tampa, raised $220,000 in the first two weeks of November last year. It has raised $74,000 less this November _ a 34 percent drop.

"Even at the national level, giving tends to be connect to people's personal income, and when they're not making as much, they're not giving as much," said Karleen Kos, executive vice president of Metropolitan Ministries. "For us, that tends to knock a few more people off the edge."

_ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kathryn Wexler can be reached at wexlersptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

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