Like the autumn rains that will soon begin, the effects of the nation's faltering economy will fall on everyone. Already, Americans are cutting back — driving less, shopping more carefully for necessities and spending less on nonessentials.

Like the autumn rains that will soon begin, the effects of the nation's faltering economy will fall on everyone. Already, Americans are cutting back — driving less, shopping more carefully for necessities and spending less on nonessentials.

But what about those who can't cut back — those whose resources already are stretched to the breaking point? They will turn to the community-based social service agencies that strive to help those struggling to survive.

But those agencies are also feeling the pain of the economic downturn. Corporate giving has dropped as companies tighten belts, leaving agencies with less even as requests for services from the poor, the disabled and the elderly are on the rise.

United Way of Jackson County — the umbrella organization that raises money from individuals working for local employers — is now in the midst of its annual fund-raising campaign. Executive Director Dee Anne Everson says her agency expects to come close to its goal this year of $1.123 million, despite the economy.

As of Wednesday, United Way had collected $440,127 in pledges and donations, 39 percent of the goal. That is only slightly below the giving level at the same time last year.

That's good news. The bad news is that United Way member agencies — the people on the front lines of meeting community needs — are not as healthy as they were last year. Some of the 34 local agencies that United Way helps support have cut staff, Everson says, in response to shrinking support from corporate donors.

United Way is different in one important respect: More than 80 percent of its contributions come from individuals, not corporations. That helps provide a steady stream of small contributions when employees sign up at work to have money deducted from their paychecks for United Way.

If your employer participates in United Way, sign up. If not, encourage your employer to get involved, or donate to United Way directly.

But United Way donations alone can't make up for declining support from elsewhere. And even those with secure jobs are watching their expenses more carefully these days.

Everson says keeping social service agencies afloat in will depend more than ever on volunteers — and not just the kind who answer the phone or run errands. Retirees with the skills to run programs and the willingness to do so as volunteers will be crucial, she says.

So, baby boomer professionals, those who have retired and those nearing retirement, now is the time to step up and get involved. E-mail United Way at office@unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org, or call 773-5339.