HANNIBAL — Officially, this year’s United Way of the Mark Twain Area fundraising goal is $425,000, but Executive Director Denise Damron knows “the real goal” is to help fund important community services.

HANNIBAL — Officially, this year’s United Way of the Mark Twain Area fundraising goal is $425,000, but Executive Director Denise Damron knows “the real goal” is to help fund important community services.

“We have 20 member agencies and the more dollars we raise the more we’re able to share with the organizations make such a difference in the organizations that do good work in the community,” Damron said.

The United Way of the Mark Twain Area serves Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls and Shelby counties. In the past year, the United Way and its member agencies helped serve more than 35,000 people. The United Way promotes the power of education, financial stability and healthy lives to change lives for the better.

“Our campaign theme is Give Hope and that’s what we’re try to do,” Damron said.

Gathered in the Rialto Theater in downtown Hannibal, United Way officers and stakeholders from throughout the launch the campaign on Thursday evening. Tables with different types of food were staffed by volunteers from a variety of service providing organizations. Attendees could choose from foods ranging from lasagna to s’mores.

Justin Gibson, this year’s campaign chairman, said serving on the United Way board is a way of giving back to the community he loves.

“My wife and I are lifelong residents in Hannibal and are working here and raising our kids here. It’s a great community and has a great spirit of volunteerism. Serving on United Way or any other boards or committees is just a way to give back to those who have helped us,” Gibson said.

Even with his knowledge of Hannibal and the immediate area, Gibson said visiting member agencies can be an eye-opening experience.

“You think you know what agencies deal with, but when you hear from people at our agencies you realize there are things going on” and needs that are not always recognized, Gibson said.

One new program this year is a substance abuse prevention effort.

Damron said Continental Cement and Green America Recycling gave a gift of $25,000 to start a prevention program so that area young people “don’t fall into the trap” of addiction. At this time the United Way is prepared to offer grants to agencies that will do prevention campaigns.

F.A.C.T., which works to develop and build stronger, successful families and children, is one of the organizations benefiting from the campaign.

“This year, they are helping us pay those membership fees to the Good 360 Program, so we can continue our home resource program and help individuals in our community, who have a specific need for household items,” F.A.C.T Executive Director Tom Dugger said.

Last year the United Way of the Mark Twain Area raised 52 percent of its funds from employee contributions at companies that did workplace campaigns. Another 13 percent came from company match contributions and 12 percent from company gifts.

Information on the fund drive and member agencies is available from the United Way of the Mark Twain Area at 573-221-2761 or at unitedwaymta.org.