A family with a vanload of children recently pulled up in front of the Salvation Army of Central Georgia’s offices in Macon.
The driver told Peggy Steele, the organization’s director of development, that he and his family were heading to Florida for a job, but he said he didn’t have enough money for gas. He said the family hadn’t eaten all day.
Steele and her colleagues fed the family, gave them provisions for the trip and drove the family to a nearby gas station to fill up.
The family represents just one of more than 1,200 the Salvation Army serves each year in the midstate.
But what happens when the organization that is charged with helping people needs help itself?
That’s the issue the local chapter of the Salvation Army is facing as donations have been significantly down, due in large part to the continued economic struggles of the country as a whole.
While the Salvation Army’s holiday kettle drives remained pretty consistent with the previous year -- roughly $130,000 was collected from this past Thanksgiving to Christmas -- unrestricted donations are down from $85,000 in 2010 to $43,000 in 2011, a 49 percent dropoff. Similarly, mail-in donations fell from $158,000 in 2010 to $133,000 last year, a 13 percent loss.
“It’s a reflection of the economy. We recognize that,” Steele said. “We’re hoping that it will pick up. We’re making a plea to the public to let them know their donation is missed.”
Steele said the organization usually has about $50,000 at the end of each calendar year to carry over into the new year. This year, however, it was about $1,700, because of increased demand of the agency’s services that has kept its shelter filled above capacity for a while now. The shelter has 120 beds, but it has housed as many as 140, with people sleeping on mats in the lobby and in the hallways. Steele said it costs an average of $15 per day to house a single individual.
Some members of the community, such as Charles Hodges, of Macon, said he was waiting at the headquarters to get help with a power bill.
But Steele said money levels are such that the organization itself is worried about paying its own bills.
Veneda Thompson, of Macon, said she has been living at the shelter for the past seven weeks. She’s concerned that the lack of funds could affect the homeless people who rely upon the shelter’s services.
“Being homeless, it is a concern,” said Thompson, who said she has been in a difficult financial position ever since she had surgery. “This is the only resource we have here in Macon. I’m worried because I have no family here. I sleep here, I get meals here.”
Other key community organizations said that while the economy has affected donations during the past few years, they are managing to fulfill their obligations.
Ronald Raleigh, executive director of the Middle Georgia Community Food Bank, said his organization has seen an added strain on its resources but has lately been able to build up its reserves.
Normally, the food bank has its warehouse stocked at 65 percent capacity, but Raleigh said that number had dipped to 38 percent just before the end of 2011. However, between the federal government releasing food to various agencies and the food bank’s partners stepping up, Raleigh said the warehouse is back up to roughly 57 percent capacity.
“As far as funding, we usually see a little extra during the holidays, then we usually see a bit of a decline from January to March, because the first quarter is tax season. I can’t say we’re in dire straits. We’ve been able to maintain a stable base through the recession, and we’re still able to meet the needs of organizations. Foodwise, the warehouse is getting food back into it.”
The food bank serves 310 organizations in 24 Middle Georgia counties, distributing about 6.5 million pounds of food each year.
Judy Quinlan, executive vice president of resource development and marketing for the United Way of Central Georgia, said her organization has managed to meet its goals despite the economy.
Quinlan said the organization raised $4.18 million last year to distribute to its partner agencies, including the Salvation Army. This year, the goal is $4.2 million. Quinlan said United Way will know in March if it will meet that goal.
“We hope we’re on track for that,” she said. “We know all of (our partners) are hurting. ... The past four years has been a terrible fundraising environment, but we’re still holding our own.”
Steele said the Salvation Army is doing what it can to keep costs down, but there are a lot of expenses that the average person doesn’t think about. For example, Steele said, all of the bedsheets have to be washed on a daily basis, meaning high costs in water use and detergent.
Steele said that even if people don’t have money to donate, they can still contribute canned food or extra clothing and furniture that could go to the agency’s thrift stores.
“Anything you donate can help,” she said. “There’s very little we can’t use.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.