In this season, we are besieged with stories of need. Whether from newspapers, television or personal experience, we know that many of our fellow Americans are suffering. Some who have lost their jobs are near the end of unemployment benefits. Will benefits be extended or not? As I write, Congress argues.

In the Northeast, high fuel costs leave many wondering how to survive the winter. Community food programs struggle to meet increasing demand, while further reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) will likely be made. Will enabling legislation be passed before Congress departs? It appears doubtful.

In light of such need, it is reasonable to ask, “What can I, one ordinary person without a big bank account, do?”

And behind that question is the thought, “my contribution is not enough to matter.”

Another concern was recently expressed to me as a suspicion that donations “pay the high salaries of agency leaders.”

And more than one person has said, “How will I choose … which need is the most critical?”

These concerns can be addressed by giving through the Monadnock United Way. The programs and services funded by the United Way have been vetted by a board of community volunteers, perhaps some of them your neighbors or colleagues. Board members spend many hours meeting with applicants for funding, reviewing proposed budgets and balancing known community needs.

Your “small” donation is not lost. It joins hundreds of other small to large gifts that, together, make a critical difference in the lives of Monadnock people. Of course the cost of staff is included in the budget of each service agency. It cannot be otherwise. For an example of shortsighted frugality, look no further than to the staff cuts to mental health agencies over the past 10 years. The connection between years of staff reductions, therefore reductions in services, and the many episodes of violence of recent years, seems obvious.

Another way to decide where to make your contribution is to ask yourself, “What needs most tug at my heart.” For example, being cold makes me truly miserable. I feel a personal response to the plight of frail elders who must skimp and shiver through winter. For several years, I have designated part of my United Way donation to the fuel assistance program of Southwestern Community Services.

Do the struggles of young mothers raising children alone tug at your heart? Do you recoil from the thought of being hungry and on the streets? You make the choice to give to programs that match your concerns. Sometimes this more personal approach leads to further involvement with the chosen organizations.

Recently a friend and generous contributor voiced a concern that should be taken to heart.

“Every year I contribute to several good programs,” he said. “And I will continue to do so. But sometimes I wonder, are we really getting at the root causes of the problems. Or are we just patching up the damages already done.”

That is a critical question.

My own response is “yes … and yes.” We must continue to shelter the homeless, comfort the grieving and feed the hungry. They are here, among us, often unseen or blamed for their own misfortune.

But we must also face the root causes of the growing inequality in our nation. The government “safety net,” primarily unemployment insurance and nutrition programs, has stabilized the poverty rate at 16 percent.

Growth in the national economy, however, has not succeeded in providing opportunity for those most in need.

At the local level, there are organizations that do address the need for long-term solutions. The N.H. Community Loan Fund, based in Concord, has a 25-year track record of enabling hundreds of people to have secure, affordable housing. In this region, the loan fund has guided several mobile home parks through the complexities of converting a vulnerable, commercial park to a resident-owned cooperative. The loan fund negotiates with potential funders and often makes the bridge loan that secures bank financing. Loan fund staff continue to support the new and proud former tenants as they learn to be responsible owners and managers.

Another organization that deals with causal issues is the N.H. Pro Bono Referral Program of N.H. Legal Assistance.

N.H. Legal Assistance addresses concerns of basic human rights that are threatened by local and sometimes state policies, including eviction, tax issues, housing discrimination and discrimination in long-term care facilities.

The Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention provides yet another example of an agency that supports people in crisis now… but also addresses the need for change in the prevailing culture. A growing part of their mission is to work with young people, in those years when attitudes about strength, fairness and dominance are being formed.

The Monadnock United Way campaign goal this year is $2,270,399. The United Way campaign now stands at $1,637.074, 72 percent of the goal.

For more information about the agencies and services to be funded, check the website Monadnock United Way 2013 campaign (www.muw.org/campaign-closeup/current-campaign).

Martha Bauman enjoys observing and studying the issues of aging, both in her own life and in the life of the community. She welcomes your comments about senior issues. Email mabauman@myfairpoint.net.

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