The Monadnock United Way’s annual campaign is now underway and, as it has in recent years, the organization will be focusing its impact on children, early education and financial stability. With the economic disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic putting increased pressure on these needs for many in the region, the success of the campaign is as critical as it’s ever been, if not more.

The challenges the United Way has faced in recent years are well-chronicled. In earlier times, campaign goals were frequently set and met, often within a four-month period. Over the past decade, however, declines in the number and size of major employers whose workplace campaigns fueled the overall campaign, together with increasing competition from online and other direct-funding opportunities, have forced a significant lowering of the campaign’s sights. Last year’s goal was $1.5 million, but the campaign fell short, forcing the United Way earlier this year to reduce its allocations by $242,000.

Despite the challenges, the United Way has continued to provide important support for the region’s essential needs. Through its emphasis on collective impact, it’s pooled resources across agencies and programs with a shared focus, leading to more efficient use of funds while still reaching every community in the region. And when the pandemic caused the economy to shut down, the organization stepped up with a COVID-19 emergency relief campaign that has provided over $200,000 of near-term aid to help critical services organizations keep going and struggling families to meet childcare, housing, food and other living expenses.

But even before that pandemic’s onset, the region’s needs were stark. Among the sobering statewide data cited by the United Way, the region had the third highest rate of child abuse and neglect, children here scored lower in English and math, and the area had a well-above-average number of low-income residents. Those measures have surely not improved during this extremely challenging year and are at risk of worsening further as the efforts to curtail the pandemic continue. One example: Area schools have generally not returned to a full in-class schedule, which increases family stress as parents must either reduce their work schedule or incur childcare costs. Another: Emergency housing needs and food insecurity seem sure to rise, particularly as government eviction, rent relief and enhanced unemployment benefits expire.

The United Way’s campaign goal this year is $1,277,000. By itself the campaign likely won’t close the hole that area nonprofits addressing these needs are facing due to added costs to adapt operations to social distancing requirements and replacing other means of generating revenue the pandemic has ruled out, such as fundraising events. Still, there’s no doubt the campaign will be an essential part of helping them get through while also helping those who rely on them from falling further behind.

Throughout the area there are many deserving avenues for directing charitable support, and especially so during this time of pandemic upheaval. But for those seeking an efficient means of maximizing a broad impact across the region’s communities in addressing the needs of children, early education and basic needs for financial stability, the United Way campaign offers an effective way to provide help. To learn more about the programs funded by the campaign, visit the United Way’s website at www.muw.org. To contribute, either contact your employer about doing so through payroll deduction or visit that website to donate directly. It will surely make a difference.