January 5, 2010 in City

Toys, food plentiful, but cash gifts lag

Holiday season mixed for local charities
By The Spokesman-Review

By the numbers

142,000: Pounds of food collected by Second Harvest Food Bank

3,200: Number of people served at the Salvation Army’s food bank in December

10,019: Number of toys donated to and distributed by Toys for Tots in Spokane County

Holiday charity was a mixed bag in the Inland Northwest, with some 2009 goals being met and others falling by the wayside while the recession chugs along.

Donations of food, toys and other items were up at charities in Spokane and Kootenai counties. But cash donations were harder to come by. Now most charitable organizations are entering a period of donation doldrums, while the number of people seeking help keeps rising.

“It’s just like retail,” said Dave Wall, development director for the Union Gospel Mission. “The holidays are kind of make it or break it for us.”

The mission’s annual fundraising effort was running about 10 percent behind last year’s $1.1 million, though not all donations have been tallied, he said. Across town at the Mid-City Concerns Senior Center, the Meals on Wheels program came in at just under $30,000 in its holiday appeal, shy of its $35,000 goal, said Mollie Dalpae, executive director of the program.

“We now, once again, unfortunately have a waiting list,” she said. “To have to call someone and tell them that we can’t provide food is just an excruciatingly painful call to make, and the harsh reality is we can only do so many fundraisers.”

Other campaigns had happier news. The Second Harvest Food Bank network raised about 142,000 pounds of food through various food drives at schools, businesses and elsewhere. That’s “quite a few thousand” more than last year, said spokesman Rod Wieber, and yet the region’s food banks are still trying to keep up with a boom in new clients.

“For the past year, year and a half, we’ve been chasing hunger as a freight train and just keeping pace with it,” he said.

The Christmas Fund, sponsored by The Spokesman-Review, Volunteers of America and Catholic Charities, surpassed its goal of $500,000. And the Salvation Army’s kettle drive reached its goal of $300,000 – up from the 2008’s goal of $250,000.

But the red kettles raise only about 9 percent of the Salvation Army’s budget. And its online and mail-in donation efforts are “markedly” down from past years, according to a news release. Sheila Geraghty, business administrator for the Salvation Army, said one reason for that could be a change in mail processing that sends all donations to Walla Walla. Some people fear that means local donations won’t stay here, she said, though that isn’t true.

In any case, their donations are down even as demand for services is up. The Salvation Army served some 3,200 people at its food bank in December, and 229 of those were there for the first time.

Toys for Tots campaigns, meanwhile, saw big surges in giving.

In Spokane County, 10,019 toys were donated and given to children, up from 7,700 last year, said Gunnery Sgt. Adam Ruiz, who oversees the Marine Corps Reserve project here. Mike Milligan, coordinator for the Kootenai County fundraiser, said some 3,408 toys were donated to kids in 2009, up 707 from 2008.

“It was a much more challenging year, but the community here was able to come together,” Milligan said.

At Spokane’s Union Gospel Mission, Wall said donations have been better than expected, given the economy.

“We finished strong this year, in that we were expecting the worst,” he said. “But I have to say that Spokane is a compassionate community, and people rise to the occasion.”

Wall said the mission, which operates three homeless shelters and provides free meals, has been fortunate not to have to cut services or lay off staff. But things have sometimes been tight.

In the days before Thanksgiving, the mission’s “turkey bin” dwindled to 10 birds – far too few to support the thousands of people who would be served a holiday meal.

A story on the local TV news brought in a deluge: thousands of turkeys, enough to cover Thanksgiving and a lot of meals in 2010, too.

“It was incredible,” he said. “It was all day long, person after person bringing in turkeys.”

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