Charities hope for giving moods

Published 9:13 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FRANKLIN—Despite the uncertainties surrounding layoffs and an economy that has yet to recover, local charities are hoping that people will continue to give this holiday season.

In fact, many charities depend on holiday donations to get them through slower months, particularly in the summer, when the need is still constant but donations aren’t.

“This is always a busy time for us,” said Veronica Ferguson, the executive director of the Franklin Cooperative Ministry. “This is the time when people are thinking of us.”

The Franklin Cooperative Ministry is a nonprofit agency run by churches in Franklin, Southampton County, southern Isle of Wight County and southwestern portions of Suffolk. It provides a food pantry, clothing closet, temporary prescription assistance and minimal financial assistance in cases where utilities are in danger of being disconnected or there is a threat of eviction.

Given the special circumstances this year, local charities say that it’s even more important that people continue to donate.

The Franklin/Southampton Area United Way is one of more than 1,300 United Way chapters across the country. The United Way acts as a coalition to help pool fundraising and support efforts for a number of different charities.

Anne Bryant, executive director of the Franklin/Southampton Area United Way, said donations from International Paper and its employees have traditionally accounted for 40 to 50 percent of the United Way’s donations.

“Our fundraising will be very different in the future, because we’ve depended on the support of International Paper,” she said.

However, the company still plans to make “a very generous donation to the current campaign,” Bryant said.

Last year, the local chapter of the United Way raised more than $200,000, and the goal is to raise at least the same amount this year. So far, the organization is $35,000 short of its goal, but Bryant noted that a number of campaigns in different workplaces are still out and she’s “cautiously optimistic” they will meet their goal.

“We still need contributions,” Bryant said. “The needs are going to be growing.”

Ferguson said the Cooperative Ministry, which is a United Way partner, is also heavily dependent on contributions from IP workers.

She noted that the organization has already seen the need for all types of assistance rise dramatically over the past year — and the impact from IP hasn’t even been felt yet.

“At this point, (food) comes in and it goes out,” she said. “We are not turning anything down.”

The ministry provides emergency bags of food for people who don’t qualify for benefits through social services or as a stopgap until benefits are granted. The bags contain about $20 worth of canned goods, cereal, spaghetti and other nonperishable foods.

Last year, the ministry gave out 387 emergency bags of food. This year, more than 700 have been distributed, with another month left to go. Ferguson expects the need to grow as more workers are laid off at IP.

“This office is going to be hit,” she said. “We’re trying to plan, but we can’t plan until everything falls into place.”

Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, which is also a United Way partner, experienced an exceptional year of fundraising in 2008, despite the economic turmoil. Catholic Charities provides emergency food services, as well as housing and utility assistance and counseling services.

“Last Christmas, our appeal was higher than it’s ever been,” said Jessica Lombardi, the director of development for Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia. She didn’t have any estimates as to what was expected this year.

“I just pray that it’s as good as it was last year,” she said.

Maj. Lewis Reckline of the Tidewater Command of the Salvation Army said donations held steady last year, but are down so far this year.

“We’re about 20 percent behind the same point last year,” he said. However, he is hopeful that donations will pick up as Christmas draws closer, or some services may have to altered. The Salvation Army provides Christmas assistance programs, disaster relief, community centers and adult rehabilitation centers.

“We understand that it’s a tough time,” Reckline said. “We’re going to work through it.”

Bryant is optimistic that people will continue to donate to charities.

“Support from the community has still been very good,” she said. “I believe people want to give and they will give.”