Charities around the Tampa Bay area are reporting a big drop in donations for their Christmas giveaways.
It's not that the donors are uncaring, they say. It's that fewer people can afford to give anything — and some who used to give are now looking for help, too.
"It's the economy for sure," said Pastor Brian Pierce of the Taking It to the Streets Ministry in Pinellas Park. "A lot of our supporters are now clients. They're out of work, and their houses have been foreclosed on."
Pierce said his organization has seen a 45 percent drop in toy donations from last year. With less than a week until Christmas, he said, his ministry had to go buy 3,000 toys "just to get through today" because not enough toys had been donated.
Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa has seen a similar drop in toy donations from last year, said Ana Mendez, the director of community relations. She also reported seeing familiar faces in new roles.
"A lot of people who donated to us in the past and who volunteered with us in the past are now showing up as clients," she said.
However, Metropolitan Ministries is still getting plenty of food donations, she said. Mendez said she could only speculate as to the reason for the disparity, noting that people see food — but not toys — as a necessity.
To Alex Cook, who has been collecting bicycles to give poor children for Christmas for the past 13 years, food is the reason his collections are off by nearly half. People need to eat.
"Instead of donating now, people are just trying to keep food on the table," said Cook, who runs a barbecue restaurant in Carrollwood in addition to his Alex's Christmas Bikes For Kids campaign.
In 2007, he handed out 1,407 bikes. Since then the average has been 900 to 1,000 bikes, he said, but this year he has collected just 543 bikes so far.
He might hit 600 by the time Christmas arrives — but as with the other charities, he's having some past donors turning up this year among the ranks of the needy.
"Just today I had a young lady call me up and say that usually she's one who's donating bikes, but now she's asking for bikes for her kids," Cook said.
Cook said he's disappointed at the decline in donations, but he sees the positive side, too: "I'm pleased that 600 kids are going to wake up Christmas morning and find they have bikes."
Craig Pittman can be reached at email@example.com.