By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — Last year the Greater Mankato Area United Way, for the first time, hit the $2 million fundraising mark. The 2014 goal will be $2,060,000, with this year's campaign focus being on supporting caregivers.
"It's about raising awareness of a growing aging population," said volunteer campaign Chairman Andy Nessler during a kickoff event Friday morning at the civic center.
Funding will focus on helping groups that offer support for those giving care to an elderly family member or friend.
Gail Gilman-Waldner of the MN River Area Agency on Aging said the demands on caregivers and those needing care will rise dramatically in the next decade. She said virtually everyone has been a caregiver, will be one, or will need care in the future.
With smaller families in recent decades, by 2020 there will be more residents in Minnesota over the age of 65 than all of the children in K-12.
She said one-third of baby boomers won't have children available to care for them.
"We're going to need to count on friends, neighbors and nonprofits to provide care," she said.
The average caregiver in Minnesota is middle-aged, 70 percent are women and 30 percent are "sandwiched," meaning they are caring for their own children as well as an elderly relative, usually their mother.
Besides the caregiving focus, the United Way is increasing financial support for several local nonprofits, including CADA, the BackPack program and First Steps.
Nessler noted that 28 percent of Mankato-area residents live below the poverty line and 4 in 10 children qualify for free or reduced lunches at school.
Still, he noted that the community has risen to challenges with the Mankato United Way ranking in the top 2 percent per capita in the nation for donations.
During the event, attendees were introduced to a life-size cutout bearing the likeness of Nessler in the spirit of the children's book character "Flat Stanley." The Flat Andy prop is one of many that will be distributed to area businesses for promotional use during their United Way fundraising events.
Businesses were encouraged to attach messages to Flat Andy and take photos of him with employees to generate publicity about fundraising.
Nessler admitted he's already gotten some ribbing over his Flat Andy likeness and hoped for restraint with the photo-taking aspect of Flat Andy. "Hopefully you'll keep it tasteful, this is the United Way after all," he joked.
On the web: mankatounitedway.org/