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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Economy pinches charities

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Salvation Army officials say a bad economy has severely strained their resources, leading them to cut back vital services.

At the end of February, the organization had to shut a learning center in East Toledo as well as eliminate its mobile social service vehicle that visited senior centers.

Another learning center was closed in North Baltimore in 2006 because of funding issues.

The group has exhausted reserve funds it was using for the programs.

Additionally, the Salvation Army's major annual fund-raiser, the Christmas kettle campaign, came up with only $325,000 - far short of its $500,000 goal, said Maj. Clyde D. Jones, area coordinator for northwest Ohio, which includes Lucas, Fulton, Henry, Wood, and Ottawa counties.

"How do you continue two programs when you have lost $175,000," he asked.

The Salvation Army operates the largest food pantry in Lucas County, Major Jones said, serving 12,000 people annually as well as providing utility and rent assistance.

While it is not unusual for the group to have up and down years financially, he said the situation has been getting worse over the last two years.

"I don't know that I have really ever seen it as bad as this," he said, noting that he has worked with the Salvation Army for 37 years.

The mobile social service center served about 75 to 80 seniors every week, Major Jones estimated, with programs such as crafts, prescription assistance and counseling, and food distribution.

The East Toledo learning center was an after-school program that helped children with tutors and other reading and math assistance.

The center at 752 Main St. served about 50 children, Major Jones said.

The organization has been hard hit by the double whammy of dropping donations and increasing need, he said.

"This area, as is most of the country, is facing a very difficult economic time," Major Jones said. "I think folks are holding what money they have right now because they are concerned about how they are going to keep up."

The Salvation Army is not alone.

In March, United Way, along with Toledo Area Ministries, the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank, and Toledo Seagate Food Bank unveiled a new campaign called the Family Food Fund to meet the increasing need at food banks and food pantries.

According to the United Way, Toledo Area Ministries reported a 32 percent increase in requests over the last year. Similarly, Toledo Seagate Food Bank received 4.2 million pounds of donated food last year compared to 15 million pounds three years ago.

Bill Kitson, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Greater Toledo, said he is concerned as the Family Food Fund campaign, which was only scheduled to last one month, had to be extended.

United Way was only able to raise about $10,000 - far from its $250,000 goal.

"We're simply trying to raise money to buy food," Mr. Kitson said.

"The mood that people are in is one of caution," he said. "They are holding on to their dollars a little tighter."

The Salvation Army is now trying to increase donations by encouraging major donors to consider the organization in their wills and by trying to set up an endowment to give programs a long-term source of funding.

If it is successful, it wants to reopen the learning centers and bring back the mobile social service vehicle.

"We're supposed to be there for people," Major Jones said. "That is our mission. We're there for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the underserved."

He added, "We don't know how we're going to make tomorrow happen for a lot of those folks who are depending on us."

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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