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THE SQUEEZE ON CARING

Morris E. Hintzman, executive director of Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, says church donations have never fallen in the 10 years he's been at the social service organization.

That is, until now.

"We normally see (an annual) 10 to 15 percent increase in giving from the churches," says Hintzman. But in the past year, church giving has dropped 5 percent.

That may not sound like much. But $1 of every $17 Metropolitan Ministries spends on food, clothing, shelter and counseling for the needy comes from the pews. For the fiscal year ending in April, church receipts likely will be $35,000 below the organization's goal, Hintzman says. "That would be the equivalent of 30 families that we would be unable to take care of."

Meanwhile, needs are rising.

"Right now, demand . . . is running at about an 18 percent increase over a year ago," Hintzman says. "That's piled on top of a very dramatic increase of 30 percent" last year.

Hintzman frames the predicament in biblical terms. "We have not found a man in the ditch, as the Good Samaritan found," he says. "We're finding thousands in the ditch, and we need more Samaritans."

With unemployment statewide at 8.7 percent and the recessionary climate persisting, many social service groups in the Tampa Bay area are caught in a similar double bind. Demand for services among the needy is at unprecedented levels. But church donations are shrinking as worried parishioners keep a tight grip on their pocketbooks.

Consider some examples:

The Florida Baptist Convention disclosed last month that for the first time since World War II, church receipts for its "Cooperative Program" declined in 1991 from the previous year. The program finances mainly church development and evangelism, but about 7 percent of receipts go to Baptist-sponsored social services, including foster care, aid for unwed mothers and ministries to migrant workers and the poor, says spokeswoman Barbara Denman in Jacksonville.

In addition, allocations to a Baptist hunger fund in Florida have been down this year because of the recession, she says. The fund provides groceries, meals and other staples to the needy.

At the Tampa Jewish Federation, demand for employment and family counseling services has risen 20 percent to 30 percent in the past six months. Yet the federation, in the midst of its annual fund-raising campaign, expects contributions to rise 10 percent at best this year over last, says Gary Alter, executive vice president.

"We are running about 12 percent ahead (in contributions) but we have solicited mainly our major contributors at this point," Alter said last week. "I do expect . . . some impact when we get to the lower-end contributors."

The organization is counting on new members to put 1992 contributions ahead of last year's total. If receipts don't go up as much as expected, Alter says, "it would mean a reduction of services."

Contributions from local churches to the 76-church Presbytery of Tampa Bay will rise only about 1.3 percent this year over last, according to the Rev. Gerald L. Tyer, executive presbyter. Factor in inflation, and the buying power is less than last year.

Tyer says the Presbytery will have $1,327,000 from churches to spend on local, regional, national and international "benevolent" purposes as well as administrative costs. That compares with $1,309,000 last year.

Locally, Presbytery money goes for a wide range of purposes _ not only for church development, college scholarship and chaplaincy programs, for example, but also for such social services as health care for the needy in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, hunger and homeless programs in Winter Haven and Haynes City and local AIDS ministries, Tyer says.

The Presbytery money represents only a portion of giving by local congregations. Besides sending money to the denominational level, churches also use collection plate offerings for other uses _ to pay staff salaries, maintain church buildings, pay other bills . . . and to donate directly to social service programs.

How have total Presbyterian church collections behaved during the recession?

Total collections _ including the portion given to the Presbytery _ went up 5.7 percent to $20.5-million in 1991, Tyer says. But despite the increase, the recession still has hurt, he says.

"The church's giving has not been reduced (because of the recession), but if we hadn't had a recession it might have gone up 8 percent or 9 percent or whatever."

Economic turmoil has not affected all churches _ and church giving _ in the same way. "I wouldn't say there's a trend that's monolithic . . .," Tyer says of the local Presbytery. "It has been a serious problem for many churches but not a crisis for most churches,"

At Trinity United Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, Pastor George Woldseth says giving has remained "stable." One reason, he says, is that the church has many elderly members who "really love their church." Some of them have left bequests to the church when they died, giving Trinity an extra financial cushion, Woldseth says.

Even so, he says, the church is not able to increase the amount it sends to the denominational level for social service programs. "We're pretty much keeping pace with previous years, but we're not able to expand what we are doing," he says.

At First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Pastor Arthur Ross says, "My sense is that things this year are tighter."

Income from the pews last year "was the best it's ever been" and in the first five weeks of 1992 it was running ahead of last year's figures, Ross says.

But, he adds, "the amount of commitment people are willing to make through pledges is down fairly significantly" _ roughly $20,000, or about 3 percent, he says. "This would be the first time in the eight years that I've been here that we've had less income pledged than the previous year."

Ross adds: "I think people are much more cautious. I think there is a general concern both about job security and about income. And then there are people who are just without work who are not able to make a commitment."

Because of such trends, social service organizations _ which typically rely on churches for a portion of their operating money _ are scrambling.

"From reports I have heard from various churches .

.

., they're definitely hurting," says Sister Margaret Freeman, executive director of St. Petersburg Free Clinic Inc., a social service provider that gets money from a broad range of churches.

"As a result, we too have felt a cutback in the number of donations that we have been receiving directly from churches..

.

. That gives us less to work with. We may be scrounging both for money and in-kind donations."

At the Johnnie Ruth Clarke Health Center, a primary care facility in St. Petersburg and Clearwater serving mainly poor people, church contributions "have gone way down" because of the recession, says Ron Lipton, executive director.

"We usually get contributions from around 20 churches a year," he says. "In 1991 if we got them from five churches, it was a lot."

That translates into less cash _ about $45,000 less. In 1990, Lipton says, the health center's budget was about $1-million, and "we probably got $50,000 from churches." Last year, the budget had more than doubled, but church contributions were "under $5,000," he says.

"In human terms," Lipton says, "it costs us probably a little under $50 to treat somebody for each visit _ which is real cheap. That includes lab reports, doctors, drugs, everything. So you .

.

. divide that $45,000 by 50, and we have to find costs for 900 people (from some other sources)."

And that doesn't take into account the growth in new cases brought on by the recession and rising health care costs generally, Lipton says. "We could double our medical staff tomorrow and still not meet the need."

Most of the health center's funding comes from Medicaid. Still, the cuts in church donations hurt, Lipton says.

"Some things Medicaid won't cover, plus the recession is forcing more and more people out of health insurance. That's where the grants and church funds really help," he says. "It's a big deal. It feels like we're doing a balancing act. We're walking a very very fine tightrope because we won't cut the quality of care."

In Pasco County, service demands are up and church donations are down at Farmworkers Self-Help Inc., says executive director Margarita Romo. The Dade City organization draws its support from churches and individuals. It provides immigration counseling, food, spiritual help and other aid to thousands of farm workers in the area.

Last summer, demand for services became "incredibly" high, Ms. Romo said, and "it hasn't stopped. It has been a constant flow of needs and problems."

Many churches have kept their financing commitment, she says. And this week she was expecting help from Lutheran and Methodist workers in repairing a roof.

Still, she says, church contributions have fallen because of the recession. "I think donations did fall tremendously and at the same time the need of service increased. . . . It's like we're catching it from both sides."

Likewise, Ellen Jensen, president of Religious Community Services in Clearwater, says the lines are getting longer and the money is getting tighter at that church-sponsored social service agency.

"We are really feeling the need for increased donations because we have more people coming . . . than ever before," Mrs. Jensen says.

Religious Community Services is a coalition of about 70 church and synagogue congregations that donate food, money and time for the needy. The agency has a food pantry, emergency and transitional housing, spouse abuse shelter, furniture distribution facility and counseling programs.

Contributions from congregations have slowed recently, Mrs. Jensen says. They were only 3 percent higher in January compared to January 1991. And for the final three months of 1991, they were down 7 percent from the same period of 1990 _ about $5,700.

Says Mrs. Jensen, noting that grants from federal and state government also have shrunk, "I think we're going to have to look for different avenues for revenue if this continues."

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