Atlanta’s United Way celebrates raising more than $80.5 million in tough economic year

Given the economic climate, Atlanta’s United Way came remarkably close to making its 2008 campaign goal of $82 million.

United Way held its “Appreciation Event” Monday evening at the Loudermilk Center, where Campaign Chairman Ed Heys announced that the community had raised $80.54 million.

Heys also announced that metro Atlanta now has a new top corporate United Way donor — Publix. The grocery chain has been knocking on that door for the past several years, and the Florida-based company raised $4.7 million, a $400,000 increase from a year earlier.

Of that, $3.5 million was raised in a special appeal called the Critical Needs campaign when United Way realized that social service agencies were in dire need of immediate funding to serve the growing number of people seeking help.

The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation provided $2 million of that Critical Needs campaign. If there had not been the Critical Needs campaign, United Way would only have raised $77 million towards last year’s goal.

Despite not making goal, the mood was upbeat Monday.

Heys said that Atlanta’s campaign could end up being the most succesful metro United Way in the country.

“This was a unique year,” said Heys, a partner with Deloitte. “We had a chance to show the greatness of what we can do in Atlanta.”

Milton Little, president and CEO of Atlanta’s United Way, agreed.

“None of us will forget this year’s campaign,” Little said. “It was one of the ages. I was more difficult than any one of us would have thought.”

But the fact that 150 companies ran United Way campaigns for the first time was a sign of hope. United Way employees also beat their internal goal of $160,000 by $2,000.

Two companies entered the million dollar ranks: Ernst & Young and Kroger. Deloitte’s Heys cheered Ernst & Young, and Publix cheered for Kroger — showing that United Way does bring the community together.

As tough as 2008 was for United Way, 2009 could be even tougher. During the reception, John Somerhalder, CEO of AGL Resources who will chair the 2009 campaign, seemed to understand the challenge ahead of him.

“I’m honored to accept the responsibility to run the United Way campaign,” Somerhalder said. “I plan to be here next year to say thanks.”

By the way, Little announced that Atlanta’s United Way is launching a new program called: “Give $5.” People are asked to text a $5 contribution by texting 90999, and then urge five of their friends to do the same.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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