They said it couldn’t be done — at least not in a shaky economy — but United Way Toronto supporters proved naysayers wrong. And then the city kicked it up a notch by breaking North American records, raising $109 million in 2009.

The historic achievement was trumpeted by United Way Worldwide president and CEO Brian Gallagher in a letter congratulating UWT for raising the most money in all of North America last year.

“Our city is No. 1,” said a jubilant Frances Lankin, UWT president and CEO. “United Way is not us, but what we do together.”

It hasn’t been an easy ride. The economy and its impact on local businesses and workers was a reality that couldn’t be ignored, she said. It’s why UWT mobilized its campaign cabinet in March, not waiting until summer to set volunteers out knocking on doors to spread the word about the needs of the poor, young people, seniors and newcomers in the city. A decision was also made to freeze the 2009 target at the 2008 mark.

“We knew it would be difficult,” Lankin said earlier Thursday. “We put strategies in place to reach more people and talk about our work, the work our agencies were doing and about the great human need. People responded.”