Friday, December 12, 2003

Charities say giving is down

Agencies blame economy for decrease

By Cindy Schroeder
and Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

It's the season of giving, that time of year when Greater Cincinnati charitable groups depend on donations to keep them afloat year-round.

This Christmas, many agencies say that giving is down, while needs are up. Most blame the economy.

"As the economy goes, so do the donations," said Matt Pearce, volunteer coordinator for the Greater Cincinnati Salvation Army. "It's harder to give when you're not getting."

In the past year, corporate downsizing has put many Greater Cincinnati residents out of work, and some companies have reduced charitable giving, local social service agencies said. And social service program funding was slashed when a sour economy prompted state and federal governments to cut their budgets.

"We have a goal of $500,000 for our Greater Cincinnati kettle effort," Peace said. "As of this past weekend, we weren't even halfway there."

The agency's greatest need is for volunteers to man kettles in Colerain Township, Forest Park, Mount Healthy, Finneytown, Sharonville and the Tri-County areas, Pearce said.

In recent years, temporary workers have filled in where once there were volunteers, he said.

At the FreeStore/Food Bank in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine, donations are running about $40,000 behind last year, said Jennifer Ebelhar, director of development. Corporate donations have dropped about 8 percent, while needs have increased.

"During our Thanksgiving food drive, we saw 1,000 more families - 17 percent more,'' Ebelhar said. "What we're seeing is that the need has dramatically increased. That's our hot button right now - trying to keep up with that.''

As with most social service agencies, the FreeStore/FoodBank prefers cash donations.

"We can get $7 worth of product for every dollar in cash,'' Ebelhar said. "For us, we can do more with the money and actually get more food.''

Although the economy has improved, some charitable groups say they're still reeling from last year's economic downturn.

"At the beginning of the year, we really felt the crunch,'' said Kim Francis, assistant director of Be Concerned. The 35-year-old Covington agency serves low-income residents from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties through its year-round food pantry and Christmas store.

"One of the things we tell the students who come in for tours is to look at the domino effect,'' Francis said. "We're seeing a lot more families come in here because of job loss. Companies have less to give, and fewer grant dollars are available."

At the Women's Crisis Center serving women and children in 13 Northern Kentucky counties, "monetary donations are way down," but the agency is seeing more victims this year, said Kirsten Stamates, an administrative assistant in the development department.

The Women's Crisis Center also was hard hit when it recently learned that a Northern Kentucky school system it had counted on to help meet its holiday needs wouldn't be doing so. Instead of collecting hats, gloves and books for the center's Holiday House, the system opted to give items it collected to its resource center.

Brighton Center, Northern Kentucky's largest private social service agency, served 41,175 people last year, up 8,400 the year before, a 20 percent increase. Two weeks before Christmas, cash donations are down about 10 percent.

"We're still serving those individuals,'' said Peggy A'Hearn, Brighton Center's development director. "We don't just offer a one-time handout." The agency helps people get jobs, housing and education.

"This is a vital time of year for us as an agency," A'Hearn said, echoing representatives of other non-profit groups. "What people give now helps us support everything we do year-round in the eight counties and 36 different programs."

To donate food, toys, or other items during the holidays, contact the following Ohio agencies: FreeStore/FoodBank, Drop-Inn Center, St. Joseph Home of Cincinnati, Bethany House, Society of St. Vincent DePaul, and the Salvation Army. Volunteers also are needed at most of these agencies.

Northern Kentucky agencies: Be Concerned, Brighton Center, Mental Health Association of Northern Kentucky, Welcome House and Women's Crisis Center.

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