WORTHINGTON — The United Way of Nobles County has a 2020 fundraising goal of $200,000 — money that is targeted to help 19 local agencies — but as of last week, the organization had reached just 11% of its goal.

Len Bakken, president of the United Way of Nobles County, said he isn’t too concerned about the amount yet needed. After all, packets delivered to many local businesses have yet to be returned before the end of the year. Among them is JBS, whose employees have historically generated a substantial amount of the funds needed to meet the United Way’s annual goal.

Bakken is human resources director at JBS, and said the company will unveil its employee contributions to the United Way next week.

With the United Way campaign off to a slow start this year, Bakken encourages people to give a tax-deductible donation if they haven’t already done so.

“These are very important organizations in our community,” he said, noting that each agency who receives funds must appear before the United Way of Nobles County’s board of directors to present their request and their plans for spending the funds.

“We’re not able to give everyone what they want,” Bakken said. When the board gets new requests, it may have to cut back on other contributions. All of the recipients are non-profit entities that help the communities of Nobles County in many ways, he added.

The Greater Round Lake Community Association made its first-ever request to the United Way for its 2020 round of funding. Becky Strandberg said the $4,000 it will receive will fund a martial arts studio at the Round Lake Community Center, which comprises the former high school building.

Because the group was anxious to create the martial arts studio, Strandberg said a benefactor loaned the association the money to complete the studio, and will be reimbursed once the United Way funding is received.

The money purchased mats to cover the floor, as well as some equipment (mitts, pads and kickboxing stands). Martial arts instructor Lee Harberts chose a room within the building to house the studio, and community association volunteers insulated it, stripped windows, painted and installed LED lighting.

Harberts, who rents the studio space, began offering classes this fall. Strandberg said students come from the Worthington, Round Lake and Brewster area for the classes.

“It was a real boost to us,” she said of being selected by the United Way for funding. “It benefits the whole community.”

Manna Food Pantry in Worthington has been a perennial recipient of United Way funding, and coordinator Linda Sanchez said the dollars are used to keep food on the shelf for people in need. The agency’s 2020 allocation will be $8,000.

Sanchez will use that money to purchase groceries both locally and through Second Harvest Heartland — wherever she can get the best deal for the money.

“There is a definite need for the funding so that we can supply the food for the pantry,” she said. “We’re seeing more people in crisis situations — people evicted from homes; some teenagers come in that are basically homeless.”

Sanchez said with talk of cuts in the federal food stamp program, she worries there will be even greater demands on food shelves.

“If they don’t get that money to go to the store, where are they going to get food?” she pondered.

Sanchez offers a “big thanks to the community” — its organizations, businesses and people — who have given to the United Way.

“We really appreciate all those donors,” she added.

The Community Connectors program is one of the larger recipients of United Way funding, with $23,000 to be awarded in 2020. District 518 Community Education Director Sharon Johnson said staff wages are paid primarily through the United Way funds.

“The staff provide support to new residents of Nobles County,” Johnson explained. “They help people connect with a variety of resources … related to housing, finding a job, getting a child enrolled in the school system.”

Last year, Community Connectors served 597 unduplicated people.

Johnson said the United Way dollars have a significant impact on the program’s budget.

“We are very grateful for the support of the United Way, as well as partner organizations that help fund the program,” she said.

Other agencies selected to receive United Way funding in 2020 are the Worthington Area YMCA, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, American Red Cross serving southwest Minnesota, Voices of Racial Justice Be The Change: Leadership on Purpose, Volunteers in Mercy, Love INC of Worthington, Southwest Crisis Center, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, Catholic Charities, ACE of Southwest Minnesota, Lutheran Social Services, ARC Minnesota Southwest, Junior Achievement, Nobles County Historical Society and NAMI of Southwest Minnesota.

If people would like to contribute to the United Way, contact the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce at 372-2919.