The United Way of Hernando County, which provides funding to 24 area nonprofit agencies, announced Monday that 2002 was a record-breaking year for donations.
United Way officials said the nonprofit group had raised $670,685. That's an increase of 11.6 percent over the $601,000 raised in 2001, which also set a mark for giving.
The gains came during a year when donations to social service agencies suffered from a faltering economy and mounting distrust of nonprofits brought about by charity scandals after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
United Way of Hernando County executive director Penny Zaphel said the flow of money to her organization had increased despite the obstacles because of the group's roots and reputation in the county.
"Even though we are part of a national organization, we run our own show here," Zaphel said. "And I think we have made that point to donors."
The bulk of the money came through workplace campaigns in which corporations matched their employees' voluntary payroll deductions. Publix raised more than $225,000; Wal-Mart more than $100,000. Most of the rest was donated by local hospitals, financial institutions, and employees of county government and the school system.
"We saw increased giving from almost every business," Zaphel said, and "very few decreases."
This year, Zaphel said, the national United Way organization is embarking on an accountability campaign to ensure that money being disbursed is used wisely and provides the broadest possible benefit. The Hernando County chapter will take part in that effort by adding members to its allocations committee, which will receive additional training.
"If it is not sent to the right agencies . . . it really doesn't do us any good," Zaphel said of the money her group doles out. "We want to see results."
County Social Services director Jean Rags, who works closely with community nonprofits, said the United Way's success meant more than just extra money going to local agencies.
"Increased donations . . . are a strong indication that there is still a trust in the United Way," she said.
_ Will Van Sant covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to vansantsptimes.com.