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United Way makes a switch on North Shore

By Robin Washington

Two Harbors' Neighbor to Neighbor Thrift Shop will no longer see donations from the United Way's Northeastern Minnesota office, but it isn't being cut off.

Rather, the North Shore United Way campaign benefiting Neighbor to Neighbor and other social service organizations will be directed from Duluth.

"We officially took over this summer," Paula Reed, president of the United Way of Greater Duluth, told the News-Chronicle this week of the transfer of Lake and Cook counties from the jurisdiction of the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota.

Based in Chisholm, the Northeastern Minnesota branch previously covered an immense, and for a small office, unwieldy, geographic area stretching from Knife River to International Falls. A goal of streamlining United Way operations nationwide and discussions between the two branches after a disappointing North Shore campaign last year led to the new configuration.

"We shadowed their process to see how it was done," Reed said. "This past summer, I've been meeting with businesses and individuals up the shore and assuring them the money will stay local. The money raised in Lake and Cook counties will continue to be invested in Lake and Cook county programs."

One of those is Neighbor to Neighbor, at 515 First Ave. in Two Harbors. The Rev. Jim Joseph of Living Waters Fellowship, a member church of the Two Harbors Ministerial Association that owns the thrift shop, said he hopes the changeover goes well, noting differences between the two United Way offices.

"Duluth's priority is basically youth. Our priority in Two Harbors has been with the elderly and low income," he said.

"But they've been tremendously beneficial over the years to the Salvation Army and also to Neighbor to Neighbor. Neighbor to Neighbor wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the United Way."

The switch comes after a North Shore campaign last year that netted only $38,751 in grant money for local organizations versus $71,000 the year before, Reed said.

Much larger than the Northeastern Minnesota branch, the Greater Duluth office takes in about twice the pledges, with more than $2 million in pledges last year, according its 2007-08 financial summary. In 2007, the Chisholm-based group reported just over $1.2 million.

The Duluth office may also distinguish itself in other ways.

"They've never done a community kick-off up there," Reed said, attributing the omission not to lack of resolve but geographic constraints.

"I think it would be nice to have a small event to let the community know it's United Way time, whether it's an ice cream social or something like that," she said. "Because we're closer, we should be able to do some of those things."

Joseph said he'd attend.

"That sounds nice, especially in this economy," he said. "We need to encourage people to continue to give."