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The economy hits home: Local charities not feeling pinch yet
Felicia Doty rings a bell for The Salvation Army on Tuesday afternoon outside of Lakeshore Mall. Nationally, there has been a 25 percent decline in contributions to the organization’s kettle drive. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

In hard times, the giving continues.

A sliding economy and growing uncertainty hasn’t had a severe impact on area charitable causes for the needy this Christmas, though local organization are finding it tougher to meet the needs of more people.

The rocky economic climate is a one-two punch for groups dedicated to raising funds and soliciting donations. Individuals and businesses may cut back on giving while more out-of-work poor apply for holiday assistance.

"We really have been inundated," said Mike Walston, church and community ministries director for the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, which comprises about 70 churches around Hall County. "We have had 33 percent more people (asking) than last year. So the need has been greater to secure the funds, but that has happened. Everyone gave very generously."

Through the association’s "Secret Santa" program, about 500 families with 1,100 children were provided clothes, other necessities and toys at a rate of $50 per child.

"We were able to meet the challenge of what we had," Walston said. "The people of the Hall County community are very generous, and they have rallied to our cause."

Walston acknowledges that the picture may be more bleak come Christmas 2009.

"Over the long haul, I’m not sure," he said. "If the economy continues to go the same way in the months to come, I’m not sure how much people would continue to give. If more people fall on hard times, then they’re just not going to be able to."

Nationwide, the Salvation Army has seen contributions to its kettles drop by about 25 percent this year, according to Maj. George Hood, a spokesman for the charity.

The Gainesville Jaycees had to adjust their fundraising strategies this year for their annual Empty Stocking Fund, which provided clothes, other necessities and toys for 446 needy Hall County children.

"The giving has been about the same, but the goal was less last year," said Britton Adams, this year’s director of the Jaycees’ Empty Stocking Fund. About 50 more children were helped by the fund this year over last, at a rate of $100 per child. While the shopping has been completed, the fundraising continues, including a "Casino Night" in February which will go toward the 2008 Empty Stocking fund. The Jaycees spent more than $44,000 on area children, but only about 75 percent of that amount has been raised so far, Adams said.

"We still have some work to do to get this paid for," he said.

Adams said members knew this season would be a tougher time for fundraising, so they chose to lower the price of raffle tickets for vacation packages from $50 to $20 with hopes of selling more.

Adams said while most businesses and individuals continued to support the cause, "there’s definitely been some folks who had to make tough decisions. Some companies did respond that it was something that they had done in the past and wanted to do in the future, but this year they were just not in a position to do that."

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office saw an increase in contributions to its bicycle program, which provides new bikes for needy children. The office raised more than $10,000 this Christmas, an increase of nearly $4,000 over last year, enabling sheriff’s officials to help more needy families, Col. Jeff Strickland said.

Walston said that while the unemployment rate continues to creep upward, there are still many perennial givers who "are doing OK."

Adams, of the Jaycees, echoed that.

"One thing I’ve learned is there are still people out there who are doing well, who are grateful that they’re doing well, and they’re even more willing to step up to make this work."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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