WASHINGTON – As the nation heads into the season of giving, many local charities say they are feeling pinched between a drop in donations in the wake of Sept. 11 and an increase in demand for their services.
Part of it may be that people donated a lot to disaster relief after Sept. 11, said Glenda Helman of the Community Action Council in Hagerstown. “But the other side is that people are feeling unsure of the economy — personally, it rocked all of us,” she said.
The Salvation Army of Greater Baltimore said it has so far collected only about 50 percent of what it collected last year for its holiday fund, which provides toys, food and clothing to the needy throughout the holiday season.
This year’s drop in donations goes hand-in-hand with a jump in requests for assistance. The organization expects to help about 10,000 children this year — almost 20 percent more than the 8,400 children it assisted during the last holiday season.
But while the organization’s holiday fund is hurting, its disaster fund is in good shape.
“People are focused on disaster,” said Lafeea Watson, a Salvation Army spokeswoman.
The United Way of Washington County, which funds about 35 programs run by 21 different agencies, is also feeling the holiday pinch. The organization’s annual fund-raising campaign ends Dec. 13, but it was still $730,000 below its goal of $1.8 million with less than a month to go.
The problem, said communications director Bill Bulla, is that some local businesses have been busy grappling with the economy or with fallout from Sept. 11, and have not yet gotten around to running their usual in-house United Way campaigns. Employee layoffs and transfers have further eaten away at the funds the United Way receives from sponsoring businesses.
“The fear that we have is that we are seeing a trickle-down effect from the events of Sept. 11,” said Bulla.
Even organizations that take donations of food, not money, are wondering how they will meet their needs this year.
Yvonne Terry, manager of the Maryland Food Bank in Salisbury, said food drive donations in her area are practically “null and void.”
Lynn Jackson, operations manager for Food Resources Inc. in Washington County, said he usually has about 25,000 pounds of donated food in hand by this time of year. Right now, he only has half that.
Jackson said the lull in donations could hardly come at a worse moment: Demand for food from Food Resource’s 92 member agencies, which feed about 60,000 people, is up by about 32 percent. He said he is concerned that there won’t be enough food to meet demand.
“We have our agencies requesting a certain number of bags each year and we may not be able to fulfill it,” he said. “They will get something, but they may not get what they requested.”
And while Violet Carlson, of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, has not seen donations fizzle, she has seen an explosion of need.
In October alone, she said, 600 people visited the church’s one-room, shelf-lined pantry in search of food — the highest number of clients in the pantry’s 20-year history.
Terry said that most of the new needy are “part of working families,” who are driven to ask for help for a variety of reasons. “Different crisis situations can drive them to food pantries,” she said.
Helman said many of her clients, too, are working people who are seeking assistance for the first time because of an unexpected illness, financial problems or eviction.
Geannine Hladky, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Maryland, said those organizations that appeal to an immediate sense of need, such as hunger and homelessness, have suffered the most in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Larger, more traditional organizations with a loyal base of followers, such as universities or health-related charities, are not affected in the same way she said.
But she still holds out hope, noting that whatever the peculiar circumstances of this year, this is still the traditional season of giving for Americans.
“The last three months of the year is when most giving takes place,” she said. “The market is up and there’s hope that giving will not decrease.”