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Published: Tuesday, 1/6/2009

Toledo Community Foundation to develop 'needs list' for Obama

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Those involved in the Toledo Community Foundation don't purport to have all the answers.

But they do know that area residents are facing problems.

Working with other community foundations in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the local funding organization is helping to develop a list of community needs that will be funneled to the new presidential administration. The goal is to offer a view of what "the man on the street" is facing so a plan can be developed.

"We touched on issues of foreclosure, housing issues, hunger issues and food, job issues, and what we call basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, transportation," said Keith Burwell, president of the Toledo Community Foundation. "We very intentionally didn't get down to micro level of each issue. We felt it was our responsibility to offer as much information as we could, and with no agenda attached."

The foundation is the largest philanthropic group in northwest Ohio, Mr. Burwell said, offering grants to businesses, individuals, and organizations that total anywhere from $8 million to $15 million a year.

Although not a provider of services, the foundation helps fund organizations that support community needs, "everything from Alzheimer's to the zoo," or A to Z, Mr. Burwell said. And like other organizations, foundations are feeling the impact of a downtrodden economy as less money is being donated.

The idea for community foundations to present a report to President-elect Obama's administration originated at a Pittsburgh conference during which the local foundation brought together people from area groups and organizations. There, a Washington-based lobbyist suggested that a list of human service needs would be helpful to the administrations in drafting an economic stimulus package.

Select communities in Ohio and Pennsylvania were chosen because they were key in the Obama victory and representative of "urban America," said Grant Oliphant, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Foundation.

The report will include information from community foundations in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo.

Mr. Oliphant said the areas the information focused on are basic needs: Food, utilities, housing, and transportation.

"I don't know that the needs are different; it's the level of need that seems to be higher than we've seen in a while," he said. "We don't think we're near bottom yet in terms of where this will go."

The cumulative report could be in the hands of the incoming administration as soon as today, Mr. Oliphant said. From there, the foundations hope to remain a part of the dialogue.

"It really is intended to focus attention on the ground-level situation that communities are facing," he said. "What gets the headlines, at least at the national level, is the collapse of a financial house or the fall of a multinational company, but the stories of what are happening to individual Americans tend to get lost and we want to make sure those stories are heard."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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