Salvation Army Struggles With Increasing Demand
Columbus, Ohio, March 19, 2009, The Associated Press — Often the last resort for those in need, the Salvation Army in some cities is experiencing a budget crunch of its own despite a sharp increase in donations.
The Salvation Army's annual holiday Red Kettle campaign brought in a record $130 million in donations last year, up 10 percent from 2007 and the biggest one-year jump since 1997.
But the money will be spent on programs in the communities where it was collected, and many cities with the most need for Salvation Army assistance — such as Detroit and Las Vegas — are having trouble raising funds, national spokeswoman Melissa Temme said.
"It's crisis time," said Charles Desiderio, director of development at the organization's Las Vegas' office. "And I don't think we've seen the worst of it."
The Las Vegas organization has laid off about five workers out of a 250-person staff, dramatically reduced a program for female addicts and stopped offering classes on how to care for newborns, Desiderio said.
In Cleveland, Salvation Army officials have limited the amount of meat they include in food pantry grocery-bag handouts.
In Detroit, where unemployment is among the highest in the nation, the Christmas kettle and direct mail fundraising campaign fell about $800,000 short of its $8.5 million goal, said John Turner, general secretary of Salvation Army's eastern Michigan division.
"The need here is so great is that we can't possibly cut back on services," he said. "So we are just going on faith that somehow, some way the money will come in later this year."
In Houston, where millions were affected last year by Hurricane Ike, donations have dropped significantly and officials are considering scaling back programs to three days a week.
In Columbus, the Salvation Army of Central Ohio has told about 50 workers they must take nine unpaid days off between April and October, spokeswoman Alice Hohl said.
And in Sandusky in northern Ohio, the Salvation Army is closing its thrift store, putting six people out of work.
Malcolm Campbell, 53, said he depends on the Salvation Army for its $1.99 jeans and other inexpensive items.
"I don't spend high-dollar money on clothing," he said outside a thrift store near downtown Columbus. "If this weren't here, I guess I'd have to shop at Wal-Mart or Kmart."
Desiderio said more layoffs to the Las Vegas staff and cutbacks to a program that trains the homeless to work in restaurant kitchens are possible.
Las Vegas volunteers collected $670,000 during the holiday kettle campaign, up slightly from 2007. But program funding from other sources, such as the United Way and the state, have dropped just as casino business has dried up and regional unemployment has risen, Desiderio said.
"We're falling behind. And it's not just us," he said, referring to other nonprofit organizations. "We're all facing these kinds of things."
A report from Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy in December found that 93 percent of nonprofit organization fundraisers around the nation believed the recession was causing people to make fewer charitable donations.
Salvation Army organizations in South Carolina and Illinois have responded to higher demand for services and dwindling resources by working more closely with other local agencies, Temme said.
In Elgin, Ill., where the Salvation Army ran out of food at its pantry in November, officials organized a fair in January with about two dozen other social service organizations where those in need could arrange for health care, legal assistance and other services in one stop.
"You never want to turn people away," Temme said. "And if we can't help them, we will try to find someone who can."