The Ottawa County United Way has begun campaigning for its 2008-2009 budget.

“The United Way is a great way to help people,” said Sarah Jane Johnson, executive director. “The donations go directly to those in need and it stays in Ottawa County.”

The need for assistance was seen especially during the past year with the flood, the ice storm and the tornado.

“We've all been touched by that need,” Johnson said. “If not ourselves then a family member, a church member of a fellow employee.”

This year the total goal is $232,401 which will help 17 different agencies.

“The board has done a really good job of getting this year's United Way campaign off the ground,” Johnson said.

One of the best ways Johnson feels the United Way has found to raise funds is payroll deduction.

“If everyone gives just a little each week or each paycheck, it adds up over a year,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who was recently rehired as executive director, remembered in the past when the United Way budget was around $75,000 and helped eight or nine agencies.

Among the requirements for an agency to be assisted by the United Way, the agency needs to help the people of Ottawa County and be recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a non-profit, 501 (C)(3), organization.

“Money is allocated on a needs basis,” Johnson said.

The agencies scheduled to be helped this year include the Community Clinic, the Ottawa County Boys and Girls Club, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Miami Seniors' Center and the Salvation Army.

Others that will benefit include the Ottawa County Red Cross, KIDS Car Seats, the Nutrition Coalition, the Harbor, Partners for Ottawa County Youth (POCY), Senior Companions, Hearts & Hammers, the Ottawa County Ministerial Alliance, the Angel Tree and First Call 2-1-1.

This year's fund raising activities begin with the Green Country 5K Benefit Run scheduled for Saturday.

This is the second year for the USATF-sanctioned event, which is co-sponsored by Integris Baptist Regional Health Center and Integris Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. All proceeds will be donated to the United Way.

Registration is from 7 to 8:45 a.m. at the Miami Physicians Clinic parking lot at 30 B St. SW. The race begins at 9 a.m.

Pre-registration is $20 and should be dropped off at the Miami Area Chamber of Commerce. Registration the day of the run is $25.

The “Taste of Ottawa County” is the official kick-off event and will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Miami Civic Center. Tickets are $6.

“I've invited 36 restaurants in Ottawa County, from fast food restaurants to the casinos' restaurants, to participate,” Johnson said. “They're invited to show off what makes them the best.”

The United Way helps both the non-profit agencies in Ottawa County as well as area businesses.

“Without the United Way, I think Ottawa County would be devastated,” Johnson said. “Some of these agencies might have to close without the funding, but the others would spend much more time raising funds and the businesses would be hit even more frequently for funding by all of these agencies.”

To have a volunteer come to a business and discuss payroll deduction, contact Johnson at 533-8677.