With the help of clowns and jugglers, the United Way of Central Maryland kicked off this year's campaign, which has a goal of $33.2 million.
About 1,000 people attended a kick-off breakfast yesterday at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel.
More than 300 agencies are funded by the United Way in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties. They assist about 800,000 people a year.
This year's campaign, which has been extended from three months to five months, will target 1,800 area companies with 50 or more employees, said Mel Tansill, the United Way director of media and community relations.
"It's even more important now because of limited social spending [by governments]," Tansill said. "The community has to fill the void."
Norman O. Taylor, president of the United Way System of Central Maryland, said the charity is trying to be as "customer friendly" as possible toward member organizations.
"In hard times, we're hoping that the community steps forward and says we want to help," Taylor said.
James Shellington, director of the drug outreach program for the Health Education Resource Organization (HERO), said much of the money his Baltimore-based organization receives from the United Way goes toward helping people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
The chairman of this year's campaign is James T. Brady, managing partner of Arthur Andersen & Co., who dressed up in clown outfit for the kickoff.