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Gap grows between need and donations in bay area

Some Tampa Bay area charities are warning that a dramatic decline in donations is threatening to put more families on the street.

"We're being hit in every direction," said Karen Butler, executive director of ASAP Homeless Services Inc. in St. Petersburg. "We're being hit left, right, upside down. We need that money."

It's a situation mirrored around Florida and the country. Donations from individuals are tanking, while government cuts have left charitable groups more dependent on donations than ever before.

Many local organizations have been forced to end some services, trim service hours and go into fundraising overdrive.

At the same time, demand for services is up. People who have never needed help are lining up for food, clothing and money for gas and housing.

"I've been here at CASA 19 years," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of the group, which serves and shelters victims of domestic abuse. "This is probably right up there with one of the most difficult years I've had — just because of the struggles with funding."

• • •

Daisy Hatheway and her husband and two children, ages 6 and 5, arrived in Florida from Massachusetts in June, planning to live with relatives until they could get on their feet.

Within weeks, her mother asked them to move out, and the young family was suddenly facing homelessness.

She shudders at their prospects before ASAP Homeless Services intervened.

"We probably would have been out on the streets," said Daisy, 26. "I was like, 'What are we going to do?' We didn't even have money to pay for a motel room."

While an extreme case, the Hatheways are nonetheless part of a growing problem.

ASAP and similar services that provide temporary housing assistance are facing the same budgetary challenges as everyone else. ASAP director Butler has only a month's worth of operating costs in the bank. She fears the emergency shelters — which house 444 men, woman and children each year — might be forced to close.

Butler has been making calls, dreaming up new fundraising strategies and working late nights filing grant applications. It's all because donations from individuals, a key part of her budget, have disappeared.

"I don't think we've gotten a personal check from anyone in two months," Butler said.

• • •

The fallout is hitting a wide spectrum of charities, including homeless shelters, animal services and groups that clothe the poor.

In the Tampa Bay area, United Way has had to reduce part of its funding to 48 agencies. For the Jewish Community Center, that meant reducing scholarships to preschool, summer camp and after-school programs.

"More families need help, and there's less help to give because of the reduction of funding to places like United Way," said Jewish Community Center director Cathy Gardner. "It's a double whammy."

They're not the only ones being squeezed.

The Humane Society of Pinellas pared back on operating hours and the ambulance service that picks up injured animals. Money has dried up for the Aid-a-Pet program, which helps pet owners pay for veterinary costs.

"It's really hard, and I hope it will turn around fast for everyone, depending on donations and goodwill," said executive director Barbara Snow.

Clothes to Kids, based in Clearwater, raised about $117,000 at its annual fundraiser last year. This year, it raised $80,000. Multiyear gifts, in particular, were down.

"It's a perfect snapshot of what's happening in our community," said executive director Jennifer Silva. "People aren't optimistic." It is taking a toll on small things, too. The group can't find a business willing to donate a new copying machine. "You make sacrifices in order to survive, but we will definitely have to rely on the citizens of our community more and more," she said.

• • •

What effects will all of this have on a state that already lags behind others in donations and volunteers for its nonprofit sector?

"We were already behind, and now I'm sure we're going to fall further behind by sheer economics," said Katie Ensign, president of the Florida Philanthropic Network. "The demand for services has increased, and yet … I'm sure their resources have decreased."

The state depends on nonprofit groups to provide many health, cultural and social services, according to a joint report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies and the Florida Philanthropic Network. The nonprofit groups are expected to become more important as the state's population expands. Florida is on track to become the third most populous state by 2010.

With a bad economy, "you're going to find a lot of people who flat-out have no place to live or get food for their families, and the demand for nonprofits is going to be enormous," Ensign said.

Without more collaboration between nonprofits, business and government, "you're depending on the private sector to make up the gap that the government has left behind, and there's just not the resources," she said. "We've got some rough waters ahead."

Gap grows between need and donations in bay area 08/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 3:33pm]
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