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Collecting for charity

Economic downturn, disasters put
strain on local aid resources

Need for assistance is increasing;
donations are decreasing

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(December 2008) – In mid-November, Tiffini Mundt, manager for the Jefferson County Chapter of the American Red Cross, scrambled to find suitable housing, food and clothing for a family in Madison, Ind., that had been burned out in a fire. Across the street, on the same day, Annie Payne, social services director for the Salvation Army, worked feverishly to get money to a local family stranded in Texas so they could come home.

Beth Eggers

Photo by Don Ward

Beth Eggers volunteers to ring the
bell for the Salvation Army’s Red
Kettle Campaign, which supplies
families with emergency needs
throughout the year.

For both women, it was just another day at the office.
Around the local area and throughout the entire country, charities and aid agencies have been inundated with pleas for assistance because of natural disasters and the severe economic crisis. But many aid agencies have also seen a decline in donations since people have to make cutbacks and dig deeper in their pockets.
At the Salvation Army food pantry, the shelves are almost empty, according to Payne. She said the windstorm on Sept. 14 that knocked out electricity in the region and severely damaged roofs and trees put a tremendous strain on area families.
“We fed over 400 families during that period,” she said. “We really need for people to donate more non-perishable goods to help restock our shelves.”
Since the storm and the economic downturn, the food kitchen has been serving about 300 individuals a week, and has run out of food three times.
During a normal year, the Salvation Army’s Christmas Assistance program in Madison helps approximately 100 families. Payne said the number of families seeking assistance for this holiday season has more than doubled.
The thrift store operated by the Salvation Army saw a serious drop in sales and donations during the summer months, but Payne said things are beginning to pick up. Anyone wishing to donate gently used items, including toys, can just drop them off at the office, located at 331 E. Main St. The agency can arrange to pick up larger items, like cars and furniture.
There is also a great need in the area for volunteers to ring the bells for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign. The campaign is a tradition that literally rings in the Christmas season for the Salvation Army. All funds raised help those in need in the community throughout the year. These funds enable the Salvation Army to help those who need assistance with emergency rent, mortgage payments, food, utility assistance, local disaster relief, and more. “Anyone 18 years or older can volunteer,” said Payne.
At the local chapter of the Red Cross, 404 E. Main St., Mundt said her office is receiving 10 to 20 phone calls a day with requests for assistance with heating, cooling, housing, clothing and basic needs.
“Unfortunately, however, there has been a large decrease in donations across the board,” she said. “It is extremely difficult to assist families with their needs when donations are not coming in.”
Mundt said her organization is not a government agency, so it does not get funding from anywhere except from individuals, companies and businesses who take the time to give monetary gifts.
“It would be wonderful if a company, business or individual could volunteer to adopt a family for a holiday meal or to assist with children’s need,” she said. “Despite a well-coordinated effort by all the local agencies to work together so we don’t duplicate holiday assistance, sometimes a family is actually left off of the list.”
She said monetary donations are greatly appreciated since families like the fire victims receive free vouchers to purchase things they lost in the fire. Also at this time of the year, she asked that anyone who is replacing their Christmas tree call the agency before they throw out the old one. “I would especially like to find this family a Christmas tree with the holidays approaching,” she said.
At the state level, Roger Frisk, president of Indiana Association of United Way, said the economic situation and numerous disasters in the state this year have taken their toll on donations to the 62 United Way agencies in the state.
“All but six of our 92 counties were at one time declared disaster areas this year because of major flooding and other issues,” he said. “That has affected aid agencies throughout the state.”
United Way raises money primarily through workplace donations and then gives those funds to other aid agencies. “Our campaigns for this year are moving very slowly,” said Frisk. “Many people have lost their jobs, and many more believe the end of their jobs is near.”
In Madison, Staci Turner, executive director of Jefferson County’s United Way agency, said people here are also giving less and cutting back. “We are only at about 60 percent of our $360,000 budget for 2009,” she said. “If we don’t hit our target, then we may have to cut back on what we donate to the agencies we support.”
The United Way in Jefferson County supports the Boy Scouts in the area; Casa Amiga, a Hispanic community wherein immigrants can learn English; Girls, Inc.; Jefferson County Association for Developmentally Disabled, which operates Sandstone Industries, the Special Olympics and a variety of school programs; Meals on Wheels, Catch a Ride, Turning Point, a domestic violence shelter; the USO, which helps military personnel; the Salvation Army; Southwestern Recreation Association, which offers soccer and other recreational activities to area youth; Lide White Boys and Girls Club; Retired Senior Volunteer Program; and the Jefferson County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
There is good news for many aid agencies, however. For the remaining part of this year, including the holiday season, many local organizations report funding is “holding steady.”
At Retired Senior Volunteer Program, director Vicky Copeland said, “We are holding our own as far as funding goes for now.” Her organization is comprised of 200 volunteers aged 55 or older who work at the hospital, schools and local agencies. During Christmas, RSVP makes Christmas gift for the OVO Head Start program. The American Legion also donates to RSVP to help with their programs. “We can always use more volunteers,” said Copeland.
In Carrollton, Ky., the police department annual holds a Christmas party and a “Shop with a Cop,” day for disadvantaged children.
“We hold a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, and we receive donations from our local industries for our program,” said Police Chief Mike Wilhoite. “So far, our funding has not been affected by the economic downturn.”
His department supplies a full set of clothing, including coats, undergarments, shoes and belts, for the children selected for the program. Those children are referred by the local school system.
River Valley Winery, 126 Sixth St., in Carrollton, is holding a benefit concert to help with the program. At 8 p.m. on Dec. 18, local band Muddy Loafers will perform. The cover charge for the concert is a toy for a young child. Winery owners Krasi and Vicky Georgiev will donate 10 percent of their sales that evening to the program. Muddy Loafers is also donating their time to the program. “Christmas is about giving,” said Vicky. “We want to give to our community. This is a way we can help.”

• To donate or for more information about Jefferson County United Metro Way, call (812) 265-2036. For the American Red Cross Jefferson County Chapter, call (812) 265-3818. For the Salvation Army, call (812) 265-2157. For RSVP, call (812) 265-3950.

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