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United Way of Manatee raises $2.6M

BRADENTON — Despite the weak economy, the United Way of Manatee County raised more than $2.6million this year, Bob Beck, 2008 campaign chairman, announced at an awards luncheon Friday.

The $2.6 million represents 92 percent of this year’s campaign goal. United Way officials expect the grand total to increase as more contributions come in, Beck said.

Fourteen local Publix Supermarket Markets, along with Publix Super Market Charities, earned the Pinnacle Award for the lion’s share, contributing more than $600,000 to help provide social services to Manatee residents.

“This year the need has never been greater,” Beck said. “What has been accomplished is truly commendable and is a great credit to all who contributed.” Beck is president of Staffing Professionals in Bradenton.

Tropicana earned the Hero’s award, or second-highest honor, for contributing between $299,000 and $499,999. Tropicana’s contribution was matched 100 percent by PepsiCo, owner of the company.

Kathie March, immediate past chair of the United Way, said the community’s response was heartwarming considering escalating needs.

“Locally, we saw a shift occur among members of our community who had been long-time contributors to the United Way but who are now in need of services,” Marsh said. “It was apparent that the 2008 campaign would have challenges that would test the strength of our United Way to effectively and efficiently serve the substantially increasing human care needs in our community.”

Marsh credited not only contributors’ generosity but also last year’s uneventful hurricane season, which allowed United Way agencies to focus on the needs of the unemployed and those who have lost their homes in the economic downturn.

The Tocqueville Society, a group of donors who contribute $10,000 or more, now has 17 members who this year contributed more than $550,000, Marsh said.

The Women’s Leadership Initiative, a fund-raising effort begun four years ago, has raised $30,000 to help the American Red Cross Youth Corps, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, Family Partnership Center, Just for Girls, ManaTeens and the Whole Child Project.

Beck also paid tribute to Federal Express, Mosaic and Publix Supermarkets for their participation in the loaned executive program. Each of the three companies provided or sponsored an employee on a part time or full-time basis to help with the campaign.