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New Year finds Catholic Charities struggling

Donations have dropped significantly this year to the annual Christmas Collection – Catholic Charities’ biggest fund-raiser and a major source of income for programs that help thousands in need throughout Eastern Washington.

According to its Dec. 21 total – the latest figure available – Catholic Charities is about $300,000 short of its goal. The agency hopes to raise $675,000 during this holiday season to provide food, clothing, shelter and other services to more than 44,000 people.

“This is the most important collection for us,” said Rob McCann, the nonprofit’s executive director. “During this time, we try to raise all the money we need for the next year. … It’s a reminder for us to serve the marginalized in our community.”

Catholic Charities kicked off its 64th annual Christmas Collection a few days before Thanksgiving by sending an appeal for contributions to more than 20,000 Eastern Washington households. So far, 2,456 donors have given a total of $374,157 – an average gift of about $117 each.

While Catholic Charities accepts Christmas Collection donations throughout the year, the bulk of the money usually comes during December and January.

The nonprofit plans to send another plea for help in early January.

While this year’s donation shortage can be attributed to a number of factors, high on the list, perhaps, is the Diocese of Spokane’s bankruptcy proceedings. Catholic Charities is separately incorporated from the diocese, which means that any money given to the nonprofit will not be used to pay attorneys or the cost of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Some donors, however, still don’t understand the distinction.

“Every penny we get will go to the poor,” McCann emphasized.

Catholic Charities has been a separate corporation since the 1940s. It has its own board of directors, files its own 990-form with the IRS and has contracts with various governmental agencies.

Others also confuse the annual Christmas Collection with the newspaper’s Christmas Bureau, a program managed by employees at Volunteers of America and Catholic Charities. While Christmas Bureau funds provide toys, books and a meal for families during the holidays, donations to the Christmas Collection are used for Catholic Charities services throughout the year.

Other factors, including the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, may also have influenced people’s ability to give this year.

Money from the Christmas Collection comprises a significant portion of Catholic Charities’ annual $5 million budget.

The first time in recent history that the agency didn’t reach its goal was in 2004, but the shortage was less than $8,000. About 4,435 people donated a total of $592,448.


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