After a year of hardship and uncertainty, Seattle Times readers donated a record $3.4 million to the latest Fund For The Needy campaign to support nonprofits in the Puget Sound region.

The annual winter holidays fundraiser supports 12 nonprofits that have become more critical during the pandemic, providing a range of services for thousands of people, including assistance with rent and food, technology for students and therapy for families.

The campaign raised $3,431,447 — 70% more than the previous record, raised last year — and saw a spike in participation, with more than 6,000 donors. Contributions ranged from $1 to a $300,000 gift from a reader’s estate. Some, like retirees Bill and Georgi Byer on the Eastside, donated their stimulus payments.

“We felt it was sort of a waste for the government to send that to us instead of other people who really are in more need,” Bill Byer said. “We wanted to use it to help people who need the help.”

The Byers are on a fixed income. But like other first-time Fund For The Needy donors, Bill Byer said they were motivated to help during the pandemic. Some longtime donors increased their contributions in light of the surge in need.

“I am so thankful for the generosity of our readers,” Seattle Times President Alan Fisco said in a statement. “We always want to exceed our prior year’s total, but we never dreamed of reaching $3 million. Thank you to all who contributed this year.”

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Fund For The Needy has raised more than $30 million in its 42 years of existence. The Seattle Times covers all administrative costs associated with the fund.

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One donor said she was inspired by a Seattle Times article on Asian Counseling and Referral Service’s work to deliver meals to seniors and vulnerable residents. Another said she donated after reading about how Hopelink has provided rent assistance during the pandemic. Others donated in the memory of loved ones like former Seattle Times reporter Marjorie Jones.

Jacqueline Highfill’s reason to donate was personal. She thought about how her grandparents’ support shaped her life, when her single mother was unable to make ends meet.

“There are so many people who don’t have that safety net of friends or family who can bail them out,” Highfill said.

She was also moved to donate because of the pandemic. As a resident of Kirkland, the center of the first known COVID-19 outbreak, she was well aware of its devastation.

“It’s had such a big impact,” Highfill said. “There’s such a divide. Between the people who can work from home and the people who can’t. Which again comes back to the single mom thing: If you have kids at home you’re trying to home school, too, that makes it a lot harder.”

Seattle Times stories showed how nonprofits shifted to meet clients’ needs during the pandemic. The Salvation Army served people who never imagined they would need support. A Franklin High School sophomore stayed connected with his mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters virtually. The Atlantic Street Center provided laptops to families and overcame COVID-19 diagnoses among staff.