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United Way Community Celebration is Thursday

The Fifth Annual United Way Celebration will kick off this year's fundraising drive that will benefit 36 nonprofit programs in Becker County.

After years of going door-to-door, United Way decided to hold the celebration as a chance for people to find out where their donations are going.

"There are so many things you can find out about agencies that you may not know," said Sue Braun, one of the organizers of the event.

This year's celebration will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 at the Pavilion.

The United Way of Becker County exceeded its fundraising goal of $221,000 last year, and set this year's goal at $222,000, according to Executive Director LuAnn Porter.

"Even with the challenges that we face with the economy ... we have been so blessed that people have continued to support us," she added.

The drive officially began Sept. 1 and will end Nov. 1, with three fundraising campaigns in the county.

Mailings -- going out this week -- are one of the fundraising efforts United Way is taking this year. Residents will have the option to mail their donations after receiving the brochures that list organizations and programs to benefit from the money.

Another option is the payroll drive, which allows area employees to contribute through payroll.

The third fundraising effort will be held Oct. 5, where 100 volunteers will go out to area businesses, talk to them about United Way and collect donations.

But on Thursday, as many as 600 members of the community are expected to come out to the celebration -- where free food will be served, inflatable games will give kids a chance to blow off some steam after the first two weeks of school and prize giveaways will put a smile on every winner's face.

"It's such a nice time for everybody to come together," Porter said. "There are activities for the young and old and in between."

The event will give away 75 bike helmets (first-come, first-serve), a boy bike and a girl bike to two lucky winners who enter the drawing, and plenty of door prizes.

All 36 organizations and programs that will be supported by United Way this year will have representatives available for questions also.

Some of the organizations that benefit from United Way use the funds as a starter to seek additional grants from the state, federal government or private agencies, Porter said.

But the "Food for Thought" program is one that's fully funded by United Way -- 6,400 backpacks were filled with weekend food to hungry children in Becker County Schools last year.

Teachers have started identifying eligible students to help successfully continue the program this year.

"There are a lot of worthwhile and needy programs that need funding," Porter added.