Max Gardner, the new chief executive of the Irvine-based Orange County United Way, vowed this week to do "anything he can" to meet the needs of struggling O.C. families.

Gardner, a 30-year veteran of the real estate industry, joined United Way in 2005 as a volunteer. Orange County United Way's Board Executive Committee gave him the top spot in June. He had been interim president and chief executive since December.

"I think that this organization has done really good work and has made great contributions to the county over the years," Gardner said. "My goal is to take a good, solid organization to a great organization."

More than 200,000 Orange County families are struggling to meet basic needs, and that number is constantly growing due to the economic climate, he said.

He plans to collaborate with other entities — United Way works with more than 90 other county charitable organizations — to meet those needs.

While working in the real estate industry, Gardner served as president of Irvine Co. Apartment Communities, as chief operating officer and board member at Bay Apartment Communities, and in executive-level positions at Trammell Crow Residential.

"He has a really unique combination of leadership experience in the corporate environment and he has a great passion to serve the community," said Carla Vargas, a vice president of investor relations with Orange County United Way.

"He is also well-respected in the business industry and the community," Vargas added. "Philanthropists in Orange County and the community have been very welcoming of him as well. I've had terrific feedback from everyone."