Tuesday, April 11, 2000 Missoulian Editorial KUFM public radio finished its weeklong, once-a-year fund-raising appeal Sunday night, an effort that surpassed its goal of $315,000 by $11,000. (For the record: Dogs won by a whisker, 961 to 933, over cats in the ever-popular pet wars.)

William Marcus, director of the University of Montana's Broadcast Media Center, said he and others have a gut feeling that the size of individual donations seemed to be higher this year, although the numbers won't be broken down for a while.

KUFM is not a charity in the purest sense: It doesn't help the homeless or feed the poor or provide shelter to families. But it is a nonprofit, and relies on donations to stay on the air every year. It has thousands of satisfied customers who are willing to pay something for the classical music, jazz, literature, news and other shows they've grown to love.

Montana's per-capita income is low. Recently, news reports have raised concerns about the state's "flagging economy" and "economic downturn." But when people are asked to help, they often come through.

Last fall, Missoula's United Way campaign set a $1.1 million goal and raised $3,000 more than requested. Only about 6 percent was "designated," or earmarked by the donor for a particular need or agency. The rest was given without strings by thousands of Missoula County residents who want to help.

Every appeal of the Missoula Food Bank and other charity kitchens in western Montana gets a response. When Little Leaguers go door to door with candy, neighbors buy.

The Missoulian's "We Care" column lists basic needs of local residents and families - a dinette set here, a chest of drawers there, clothing, a high chair. Not every appeal is satisfied, but many are. "They are not things that individually change a life," said Bob Deaton of Friends to Youth. "But it means something to the recipients when people give something of their own to a stranger. Combined with other efforts, it shows support."

And recently, our readers met Hope, the dog who was shot between the eyes and left for dead near Bozeman. The pooch was found by a woman near a fishing access, taken to a Bozeman veterinarian, then transported to Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pullman, Wash. She is now back in Bozeman, blind in one eye and deaf, but playful and awaiting an adoptive family. Her story went worldwide and at least $14,000 came in to cover medical and boarding expenses.

Maybe there is nothing earthshaking about any of these tales, at least not individually. But they add up to something that is reassuring and comfortable, that helps us feel empowered to use time and money to make a difference.

And don't put away those wallets yet. Missoula's United Way is setting an even more ambitious goal of $1.25 million this year, with corporate appeals starting in June.

Needs never end. Lucky for communities and their residents, the giving doesn't either.

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