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Hardship swells ranks of the needy

But outpacing both is the burgeoning list of the needy. “I'm talking to my peers and we've not seen these numbers in years, if ever,” said Jim Brenizer, director of community outreach services for Lucas County's First Call for Help. “It's not one sector of the city, or one ZIP Code. It's everywhere.”

The Salvation Army and others in the business of handing out charity - holiday or otherwise - have seen a 30 to 50 percent increase in aid requests. “With the economy the way it is, the need is there across the board,” Maj. Dave Champlin said. “Regardless of Christmas, even our daily food needs have seen a big increase.”

Major Champlin said the Salvation Army is no long accepting applications for Christmas assistance.

The agencies will always have a core group of clients, like those who can't work because of mental or physical disabilities even in the healthiest job market. But this year, those in Major Champlin's field say they're seeing scores of new names.

Those clients often are regular folks - many of them college-educated, skilled, or otherwise very employable - who have been knocked to the ground during the nation's economic downturn. “Some people are starting to depend on this as a way of life,” said Chris Galvin, director of the Ottawa County office of the United Way of Greater Toledo. “It's because they can't make it any other way.

The Holiday Bureau, which works with the Ottawa County's United Way office, expects to put together 336 food baskets this year, compared to 300 last year, said Dianne Witter, co-chairman of the Port Clinton unit.

In Toledo, five soup kitchens are routinely serving 25,000 meals a month now, an increase of 30 percent over last year, Mr. Brenizer said.

At First Call for Help, the clearinghouse for Lucas County's United Way clients, this year logged referrals for 24,000 residents requesting assistance in feeding their families, finding shelter, or paying utilities and health-care bills. In comparison, First Call last year served about 16,000 residents, Mr. Brenizer said.

In Fulton County, a record 580 families signed up to receive food, soap, and toys from the Christmas Cheer program next week - more than twice as many as in 1996 and 140 more than the previous high.

The increase is probably in part because more senior citizens and single people were notified of the program this year. At Christmas Cheer's request, the Fulton County Department of Job and Family Services sent information about the program to 1,400 households this fall.

Cheer organizer Cecily Rohrs said she has heard of workplaces that have nearly eliminated overtime or cut hours. What she is hearing is becoming a common refrain in the area.

“So many people are a paycheck away from saying, `Cheer, could you help us?'” she said.

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