United Way of Northeast Florida aims to raise $26M

City budget cuts to affect organization's call program

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - During the United Way of Northeast Florida campaign kickoff Friday in Jacksonville, volunteers and community leaders learned the charitable distributor wants to raise more than $26 million this year.

The organization says it knows it's a lofty goal, but one it thinks it can reach.

The group also got word recently that it won't be getting as much money from the city this year, as budget cuts are taking a toll on charities as well. The city let United Way know it's losing $96,000 in city funds, money that was used on the 211 information line where people call for help for things such as financial or emotional issues.

"We have many suicide calls that are coming in as well," said Connie Hodges, of the United Way. "So we just want to make sure those calls can be staffed and they can provide the services they need."

United Way is urging the city to continue the funding. It says that over the last five years, calls to the nonprofit have increased by 18 percent, from 68,000 in 2007 to 147,000 already this year.

In a letter to the city, the United Way says if the funding is not restored, it would be unable to handle the continuing increase in call volume and would have to reduce staff.

The organization says it knows city dollars are tight and it understands the budget restraints, but it believes this program is vital to the area.

Hodges said calls come in from a 10-county area.

"I do not see 211 going away," Hodges said. "We just need to make sure we have the staff that could respond to those calls in an efficient way."

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