Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hard Times

There's no question about it, we're all feeling the pinch of the economic disaster, and it appears that things are going to get worse before they get better. For some, the shoes have already dropped. Out of a job, out of a home, many are living in their cars (if they have one) or out on the street. What's especially difficult about this downturn is that there no longer is any kind of safety net, the kind that would ease the pinch. Welfare is gone, for all intents and purposes, and even if it weren't, states are in such a financial bind that they couldn't fund the programs decently.

That's where the charitable organizations (religious and secular) traditionally step up. Unfortunately, these groups are also feeling the pinch. Foundations which typically provide a large portion of the funding necessary for day to day operations are notifying groups that they can't promise much in the coming months. Donations from sympathetic individual supporters are way down because the discretionary funds are now being spent on heating costs or food. In some instances, according to some friends who help run a local food bank, previous donors are now showing up as clients. Without the revenue stream, that food bank may have to close and my friends will be out of their jobs.

Now, we can kvetch about the government and the crisis brought on by the lawless capitalism fostered in this country (and Ruth and I are always happy to join in the kvetching, as you've probably noticed), but there comes a time for action, and this is one of those times. My friends at the food bank tell me that if 15% of the people living in the general area that it serves would give a few bucks and a few items of nonperishable goods each week, it would go a long way towards ameliorating the problem while the next administration tries to put together programs to get the nation back on its feet and back to work.

That's just one tiny operation in a suburb of Los Angeles. Organizations across the country are making the same kind of requests so that they can continue serving those who desperately need their help. Many are religious in nature, but I don't think that should deter any of us. Regular readers know that both Ruth and I constantly carp about the dismantling of the wall between church and state, and both of us stand by our opinions in that regard. Neither of us, however, would denigrate the good work these religious groups do as they practice their faith in concrete and meaningful ways.

I discovered one such group while nosing around the web on the issue, the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministry. It's composed of over 250 area churches ranging from the Southern Baptists to the UCC to the Quakers. The organization runs programs for homeless veterans and for homeless women and children. It operates an urgent care medical center, food bank, and clothing bank. It provides job counseling for those who could work if a job were available. And, according to its donation page it has a pretty impressive track record with respect to how donations are used:

According to the auditors, we maintained one of the highest returns on our donors' investment since 95 cents of every dollar went into direct services with only a nickel being spent on general management and fund-raising. This does not account for the in-kind support from volunteer time and materials like food and medicines which generates $4 for every $1 given.

Now, while the Asheville Buncombe County Christian Ministry may be so geographically or philosophically distant from you that you're not terribly interested in giving up what few coins you have to this particular charity, I hope that as good, caring liberals you'll search out an organization closer to you and send them what you can.

It's the best we can do right now, and if enough of us do it, it might just be enough.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous darms said...

A related question - assuming honest people run the facility ('honest' meaning people who do not see fit to award themselves six-figure salaries for their 'service'), which is a more effective way for me to donate, cash of food? Once I assumed the best form for my donations was food itself, as it ruled out any chance of my donation being used for any other person than to feed. Today, however, I know that my food donation has to be in individual portions thus ruling out giving large bags of beans, rice or oils. Furthermore, any food I purchase to donate is purchased at retail while quite likely the local food bank can purchase at wholesale thus ensuring 'more bang for the buck'. So what in your opinion constitutes the most effective form of donation?

1:56 PM  
Blogger trifecta said...

It's best to leave money honestly. As long as the charity is thoroughly audited, and they aren't money hungry charlatans, money is able to be used more flexibly.

Let's say they have a lot of food, but are short on medical supplies. Or there is a need for assistance with rent payments so people don't get homeless.

Also, some charities purchase food from supermarket run food banks at pennies on the dollar. The Manna food bank that ABCCM uses, charges just 17 cents per pound for food to charities only. It's typically food that is close to (but hasn't yet expired) that grocery stores donate for a tax write off. Clothing, food, all do help. But cash to a great organization let's them direct resources to the area of most critical need.

3:00 AM  

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