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Even amid tough questions, consider helping United Way

The Charlotte Observer's reporting raised most of the questions that now leave a cloud over the United Way of Central Carolinas.

They were the kind of questions that a newspaper should ask. And we will continue to pursue answers on your behalf. As painful as that will be short-term, nothing will do more to restore your confidence in this important institution than the full truth.

But a newspaper's responsibility to its community does not stop at pointing out problems. Good newspapers should be just as vigilant in assisting with solutions.

Today, we focus on how we can prevent people who depend on United Way from becoming victims of this crisis.

Inside this section, you will find a list of agencies and programs in Mecklenburg, Anson, Cabarrus, Iredell and Union counties that rely on United Way of the Central Carolinas. We asked each group to disclose the percentage of its budget that is United Way money. (For a database of the agencies, searchable by county and topic, see CharlotteObserver.com.)

You haven't heard much publicly from these charities, but they are in a tough spot.

Some have told us privately that they welcome closer scrutiny of United Way's administrative practices. Still, they are terrified at the instinct to withhold contributions until the controversy is resolved.

These agencies serve thousands of people desperate for help. They include the poor, the sick, the blind, the homeless and the elderly. All are innocents in this mess. How tragic it would be for them to be neglected now as so much collateral damage.

However you choose to prevent that, this list should help.

Some who read it will conclude that too much is at stake, and that they should give through United Way. The scope of the need is so broad that it's hard to imagine meeting it any other way.

Others will read the list and use it to donate directly to programs. Agencies agree that this is better than not giving at all. But they also caution that this approach tends to leave less known programs underfunded.

If you do donate directly, consider the programs least familiar to you. We'll profile some of the more obscure programs in a series that begins Tuesday.

Whatever you do, this is not the year to sit it out. The Observer won't, either, even as it asks the hard questions.

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