By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

The United Way of the Greater Fort Hood Area kicked off its 2011 fundraising campaign Thursday with food, music and a promise to energize individuals and businesses to contribute and support vital services in their communities.

"There's a lot of excitement," United Way President Valerie Payson said. "I think a lot of people in this community realize that giving back is rewarding for everyone involved."

The luncheon, held at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center, featured music by The Funk Factory and food provided by local vendors.

The Harker Heights High School cheerleaders also performed for the standing-room-only crowd.

Metroplex Health System President and CEO Carlyle Walton, who was chosen as chairman for the 2011 campaign, said "Live United" is this year's theme.

Walton said the area United Way serves had a growth rate of more than 30 percent, which translates into a greater number of people seeking assistance from agencies the United Way helps fund.

"With cutbacks in state and federal funding for human services, the gap between needs and available services grows wider," Walton said. "Each of us, by donating, volunteering and attending today's event is demonstrating our mutual commitment to live united."

Last year, the United Way collected $640,000 to assist 23 local agencies, including the Greater Killeen Free Clinic, the Cove House Emergency Homeless Shelter and the Central Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Walton said the United Way set a goal of $650,000 for 2011.

While the kickoff was the official start of this year's campaign, some local businesses and individuals have already raised $150,000 toward the 2011 goal.

The early contributions included $96,000 raised collectively by H-E-B supermarkets and $7,500 raised by Atmos Energy.

H-E-B seller Glen Wild said giving back to the community is an important part of the company's mission.

"It's a big part of our culture, and it's part of who we are," Wild said. "We are just trying to make a difference and give something back."

For more information about the United Way, call (254) 634-0660 or go to www.unitedway-gfha.org.

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