It is 9 a.m. in the main cafeteria at Giant Food corporate headquarters in Landover, Md. More than 80 Giant supervisors and managers from Washington, Maryland and Virginia are gathered from points as distant as Richmond, Salisbury, Baltimore and Frederick.
Alvin I. Miller, Giant's vice predident for advertising and sales promotion, strides to the microphone.
"Our goal this year is the highest ever -- $450,000," he booms. "We want 100 percent fair share giving, 100 percent people participation . . . We want you all to go out there and spread the world."
The occasion: the annual kickoff for the United Way fund drive at Giant Food, a key unit in the United Way's major employe groups division.
"You can see the helping hand of United Way reach out in so many ways," continues Miller. "I am calling on everyone in this room to talk to the staff members in your respective divisions about it this week."
In varying forms, the scene at Giant's cafeteria is being played out at 450 Washington area companies this fall. Last year, the major employe division raised $5 million for United Way.
The largest charitable fund drive in the Washington area, the United Way goal this year is 13 percent more than the $21,333,814 raised a year ago, and no less than 65,000 volunteers have been enlisted to help raise the money.
The funds will be distributed to almost 200 agencies, ranging from the Red Cross to the Boy Scouts as well as associations for retarded and handicapped persons. In addition, for the sixth consecutive year, funds will go to the United Black Fund, which supports 50 groups, including day care and senior citizen centers, artistic and dramatic groups, sickle cell disease research programs, assistance programs fr former prisoners and drug abusers and tutorial and educational programs.
As of Tuesday, the campaign, which began the day after Labor Day, had raised $3,967,398, a figure described by officials as "slightly ahead of the pace of a year ago."
However, as the drive moves toward its November conclusion, two major controversies have arisen, one involving the switch of a major organization to the United Way campaign, and the other, the method of distribution of federal employes' contribution.
This year, for the first time, the American Cancer Society is part of the campaign, a fact which has drawn fire from groups who contend the United Way has a virtual monopoly on charitable fundraising in the Washington area.
In July, the Cancer Society transferred its membership from the Combined Health Appeal (CHA), a group of health-related organizations such as the American Heart Association and the Kidney Foundation.
"The Cancer Society was the most popular of the agencies in CHA," said Timothy Saasta, of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthrophy, a Washington-based organization that monitors charitable and philanthropic giving nationally.
"This can only hurt CHA fundraising efforts. It hurts the only competition United Way has. United Way should have more competion. Then more money would be given."
But Oral Suer, executive vice president of the United Way, argued that concentrating fundraising in a single effort for many agencies reduces costs and makes more money available to the agencies. He said talks are under way with other CHA agencies to bring them under the United Way umbrella.
"The business leadership of this community is committed to the idea of a single campaign," said Suer. "Why spend your dollars on fundraising if you don't have to?"
At the federal level, the Combined Federal Campaign, the nation's largest "give at the office" fund drive, also has come under fire from health-related organizations, which contend the allocation system of the $80 million campaign shortchanges them.
This morning, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), chairwoman of the House Subcmmittee on Civil Service, is scheduled to open a four-day congressional hearing on the Combined Federal Campaign. Andy Feinstein, staff director of the subcommittee, said the hearings will focus on questions of eligibility for membership in the Combined Federal Campaign -- which in Washington raises 45 percent of the United Way's money -- and on the allocation of undesignated funds, 88 percent of which go to United Way.
Feinstein said Combined Federal Campaign rules permit contributors to designate specific agencies to receive their donations and that health-related agencies receive the bulk of those funds. The shortage in designated funds for other agencies is made up by giving them more undesignated funds, he said.
William Schaeffler, director of the Combined Federal Campaign for the National Capital Area, said he had asked, so far unsuccessfully, for a 60-day delay in the congressional hearings.
"We've worked very hard and we think CFC has a lot of credibility among federal employes and deservedly so," said Schaeffler.
Last year the Combined Federal Campaign contributed $9.015 million to the United Way here, the largest single division of contributions. Its goal this year is $12.875 million, with 82 percent earmarked for the United Way. As of last Friday, Schaeffler said, the Combined Federal Campaign had raised $1.6 million.