Starving Charities

This so-called recession is hitting the do-gooders, too

WEB EXTRA: How to Help

Beverly Howard has been helping to feed the hungry in Charlotte for almost twenty years. In that time she has never seen a higher demand for services of Loaves and Fishes than right now.

"We've been in operation for thirty-three years, and we have never turned a client away for lack of food," says Howard, executive director of the grass-roots nonprofit specializing in feeding community members in crisis. But that streak may come to an end if either the demand eases (unlikely) or donations increase.

From 2005 to 2007, Loaves and Fishes' clientele increased by 8 percent. In the first four months of 2008, its patronage shot up 27 percent (representing 5,100 new clients). This past April, demands were 36 percent higher than April a year ago.

Jen Algire, executive director of Community Health Services, a nonprofit providing preventive healthcare for those in need, believes that past donors might hold back on charitable giving if their income gets too thin.

"In a normal [economic] period if we have a decrease in donations or grants, we can still cover it," says Algire. "But during a period of peak demand, when we are also at a low point in donations or grant funding…that can be a double whammy."

Factors contributing to the increased demands on charities include an unstable job market, higher gas and food prices, and increased cost of living in general. But those factors have not significantly decreased charitable giving. The problem is that service organizations need more charitable giving to keep up with the demand.

Summer is always a busy time, particularly for organizations dealing with hunger relief like Loaves and Fishes. Food demand increases as children lose access to free or reduced price school lunches.

Even when school doors open back up the weight does not disappear; it will simply shift to the shoulders of other charities. Karen Calder, executive director of Classroom Central, which provides children with school supplies, has been expecting that weight since April.

Calder, like many nonprofit execs, retains her pragmatism on the situation, spiked with a little optimism: "I'm hoping that the community will rally around the needs of the less fortunate."

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