Charities suffer in slowdown - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Charities suffer in slowdown

After-holiday needs likely to grow, groups say

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Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2008 12:00 am | Updated: 8:02 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

She didn’t sugarcoat things for them.

“The fate of the working poor is largely in the hands of service groups like yours,” Jane Burch, the executive director of New Beginnings for Women and Children, told a recent gathering of Rotarians.

Members of the year-old Foothills Rotary Club on Dec. 12 presented Burch’s nonprofit with a check for $1,767 — the first donation the group has made, the first of many it hopes to make in the years to come.

The Rotarians also gave the same amount to Life Donor USA, a charity that promotes organ and tissue donations.

Groups like New Beginnings, which provides assistance to poor families, and Life Donor rely on donations to pay for most of their operations — more than 60 percent in New Beginnings’ case, Burch said.

“This year, more than any other year, (the Rotary’s donation) makes a huge difference for us,” Burch said.

As the economy plunged into a deep recession this fall, donations to area nonprofits have fallen off, charity officials say.

“The need is great, but dollars are down,” said Jay McCall, who heads Life Donor.

The Foothills Rotary did its part to meet that need, however. The group held a fundraiser months ago to raise nearly $1,800 for the two charities, each of which were selected by the club’s service committee, according to member Martin Metzler.

“It’s up to us,” the German native said of the club’s role in serving the community.

Certainly, with the holidays upon us, many look to give back, especially to the poor.

But, for at least the first quarter of 2009, some area charities worry about a pronounced lack of support.

“We need help to get us through that first part of the year,” said Jack Parris, a spokesman for the Community Food Bank.

Faced this year with “unprecedented demand,” the group had doled out some 180,545 boxes of food through last month, Parris said.

That represents a 36-percent increase from the previous year, when, during the same period — from January to November — the food bank handed out 133,128 boxes.

“We see people we have never seen before” asking for help, Parris said.

Still, the food bank desperately needs help, especially right after the holidays.

About two-thirds ($18 million) of the group’s annual budget comes in the form of food donations, Parris said. The rest (nearly $10 million) comes in cash.

Starting in January, the group will limit needy families to just one food box per month, Parris said. That’s down from two boxes.

“We have no choice,” he added.

While donations to the charity are up “slightly,” the need has risen far beyond the food bank’s ability to collect and distribute food, Parris said.

The Red Cross of Southern Arizona, which not only sends local teams to far-flung disaster zones, but also assists area families displaced by fires, has seen its donations decline by 42 percent, according to Executive Director Richard White.

The group on a recent Saturday brought a disaster vehicle to Foothills Mall, where it operates a blood donation center, and passed cups around seeking donations.

Last year, the group had expenses of $2.5 million, according to its annual report.

Expenses this year, however, are likely to increase, White said.

“I’m terribly concerned,” he said recently. “This is the toughest time of the year for the Red Cross.”

As people build fires or fire up their heaters, fires can occur. The Red Cross spends up to $5,000 on each family it serves that was displaced by a house fire.

Normally, the group handles two to three fires per week, White said. During the week of Thanksgiving, the Red Cross responded to seven area fires.

In a year, the group typically will handle 200 fires — a number that’s sure to go up this year, White added.

“We don’t even want to say no to one family,” he said.

While the community remains “generous” to the Red Cross, the group still urges people “to give what (they) can … we will be grateful.”

Even as the holidays come to pass, area charities will continue serving those in the direst of straits. The need just seems so much greater this time around, charity leaders say.

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