WILLMAR -- When community review panels for the United Way of West Central Minnesota sit down later this month to evaluate funding applications, they'll be working with a record number of requests.
The agency has received 57 applications totaling $764,415 for its 2012-13 funding cycle.
That's an all-time high, said Renee Nolting, executive director. "The need is greater than ever," she said.
More than 60 volunteers serve on the review panels, which will meet March 22 to consider the funding requests that have been submitted. Panel chairs will meet again after the reviews and make recommendations to the United Way Community Investment Council and board of directors.
The United Way allocates money to local and regional programs in four areas: basic needs, education, income and health.
The need for basic services has been growing, Nolting said. "Even though the economy is getting better, people aren't feeling the rebound yet."
She points to the high percentage of school-aged children in the region who are eligible for the federal free and reduced-cost lunch program. In some local school districts, more than half of students qualify for the program on the basis of family income, she said. "This isn't just kids. This is the entire household."
The region's nonprofits are also feeling the pinch. Many have seen their funding sources shrink or disappear and are turning to the United Way for help.
"They're looking at all sources," Nolting said.
Last year, funding requests to the United Way of West Central Minnesota came in at $730,000. The year before, it was $520,000.
The largest number of applications this year is in the education category -- 23 programs seeking a total of $322,600. This is followed by health, with 17 programs requesting $207,292; basic needs, with 15 programs for $201,523; and income, with two programs for $33,000.
The United Way also funds special project grants, operates an early childhood education initiative, and supplies basic household items for families who have experienced a disaster or relocation.
The agency's current campaign is at 84 percent of its goal. It has until June 30 to reach $923,000.
Contributions can be mailed to United Way of West Central Minnesota, Box 895, Willmar, MN 56201 or made online at www.liveunitedwcm.org.