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Money problems, burnout plague shelter programs

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is being forced todramatically reshuffle budget allocations as the effects of dwindling federal and state funds for the hungry and homeless are felt.

But along with the mounting monetary problems that plague food pantries and emergency shelters, there are hints of a potentially even more disquieting problem for Lutherans and other churches involved in such programs - the "burnout" of program volunteers who have served countless hours without pay.

This is the experience of other denominational bodies, as well.

Mary Cooper, who heads the National Council of Church's Washington office and serves also as a director of the federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program, said denominational food and shelter budgets are being pressed to the limit - a continuing legacy, she said, of the Reagan administration's decision in the early 1980s to shift the burden of social programs from the public to the private sector.

Merle W. Boos, who directs the Evangelical Lutheran Church's hunger program, said the denomination's food and shelter budget has skyrocketed as local congregations have increasingly responded to the plight of the poor.

Cooper said that in some long-standing programs new volunteers seem not to be stepping forward to supplement the older volunteer corps.

Considering the difficulty of shelter work the "burnout" factor should come as no surprise, she said.