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Effect of recession lingers for local charities
Though donations are up, nonprofits still struggle to meet rising demand
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A few ways you can help

Christmas is just a few days away, but it’s not too late to make a last-minute donation.

• Salvation Army donation kettles can be found at your local Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Kroger and Big Lots, among other locations. Donations – toys, clothing, food and money – can also be made at the headquarters located at 711 Dorsey St. in Gainesville.

• Donations to Good News at Noon can be made at the shelter’s location at 979 Davis St. in Gainesville. The shelter is most in need of food, clothing and money.

• Food donations can be made to the Georgia Mountain Food Bank headquarters located at 1642 Calvary Industrial Drive in Gainesville, while monetary donations can be made online at www.gamountainfoodbank.org.

When the recession set in, social service charities were hit with a double dose of trouble: Demand for services increased dramatically while donations plummeted.

That disparity is starting to even out now that a sustained economic recovery is underway — the U.S. has seen 57 straight months of job growth.

Donations to charities reached a peak in 2007, before the recession kicked in, according to Giving USA, which tracks national charitable trends.

But according to the Blackbaud Index, which also tracks national charitable giving trends, donations increased 1.8 percent between July and September of this year from the same time period in 2013.

Nevertheless, for many local charities, an imbalance between supply and demand remains.

For example, though contributions have picked up a little, the local Salvation Army is about 65 percent short of its goal for kettle donations entering the week of Christmas, according to Corps Officer Lt. Niurka Peña.

“We have a lot of people in the community in need of food,” Peña said, adding that clothing and monetary donations are equally important.

Steve Mueller, operations director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank, said contributions from both individuals and corporations have been good this holiday season — including the recent donation of some 46,000 pounds of chicken from Perdue Farms, which will provide upward of 37,000 meals — “but it’s never quite enough.”

The food bank supports 58 different nonprofits in five regional counties, including Hall.

Thomas Ramirez, director of the Good News at Noon shelter in Gainesville, said his organization benefits from the solid reputation it has built in the community over the past few decades, which lends itself to a consistent donor base.

“We are very blessed to have a lot of givers,” he added. “Even though the economy has been bad, God has been good to us.”

But Ramirez is concerned that demand for services continues to increase, in part because many working-class families are relocating to the area in search of job prospects and lower costs of living.

Ramirez said he has seen an increase in the local homeless population in the past year, as well as transplants from neighboring states looking for a better standard of living.

And that means Good News at Noon is as dependent as ever on a portfolio of donations: clothing, food, money.

It’s been a tough year for many local nonprofits. According to data from the Internal Revenue Service, about a dozen local organizations had their tax-exempt status revoked in the last year.

There are many explanations for why this happens, but one of the more common reasons is simply that donations dry up and nonprofits can no longer sustain their activities. In some cases, social service charities and other nonprofits struggle to maintain their activities because donations can be sporadic.

“This time of year you tend to see (donations) a little bit more,” Mueller said.

But that means that for the better part of the year, charities have to tightly manage their budgets and sometimes reduce services in order to support holiday giving programs.

In an effort to maximize resources, many local charities work closely together to ensure services are not duplicated, particularly this time of year when programs like toy drives are commonplace, Peña said.

Organizations also try to ensure that donations go to benefit those in need. For example, Peña said that about 82 cents of every dollar donated to the Salvation Army goes directly to “clients,” with just 18 cents going to support overhead and operations costs.

Peña said that money goes to support people across nearly every demographic, not just the homeless or unemployed, helping to feed the hungry and pay bills for the working poor.

“It’s every level of working-class society,” she added.

But for all the continued struggles that social service charities face, leaders remain grateful for the support of Gainesville and Hall County residents.

“We can do this because of the generosity of this community,” said Corps Officer Lt. Arnaldo Peña, Niurka Peña’s husband.

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