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Saturday, November 26, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Giving slumps at some nonprofits

Seattle Times staff reporters

How to help


Here are some agencies that need donations:

Northwest Harvest

Ongoing: Collects nonperishable food donations at businesses throughout the region. Groups or businesses also can sign up to hold food drives. (800-722-6924 or www.northwestharvest.org/)

Holiday Angels Joy Drive

Through Dec. 25: New unwrapped books, toys, movies and CDs for infants through teens will be collected at area Starbucks to be distributed to hospitalized children by the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation. (800-315-2580 or www.slsb.org)

Hopelink

Ongoing: Five Eastside food banks accept food and new, unwrapped clothing, toys, baby and personal-care items and gift certificates. (425-869-6000 or www.hope-link.org)

Coming next Sunday

Check our Web site Sunday, Dec. 4, for the Seattle Times Wish List. It's your chance to make a wish come true for local nonprofits.

The day before Thanksgiving, Cherie Meier took stock at the Issaquah food bank she runs and saw something she had never seen before this time of year.

The shelves looked bleak.

"This is the first year we've run out of turkeys," said Meier, director at Issaquah Valley Community Services, which provides food and clothing to local residents in need. "Monetary contributions are down $20,000 from last year. And our annual food drive, which brought in about 8,500 pounds of food last year, brought 2,000 pounds of food this year, plus 500 pounds of little pumpkins for kids to carve. I depended on that food for the holidays."

For most nonprofits, the holidays are the primary season of giving — the time when donors are most willing to open up their pocketbooks and a time of great need for many low-income families. This year, some say contributions are down significantly from last year — particularly foodstuffs and other tangible items — while the need has increased.

Some organizations blame donor fatigue, saying Puget Sound residents are tapped out from sending money and items to help victims of tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes.

Other nonprofits say their contributions are the same or even higher than last year. Some say they think media coverage of Hurricane Katrina has made people more aware of the needs of the poor who live in their own community.

But most agree that in a difficult year such as this, people may need to give a little more.

Vince Matulionis, homelessness expert with United Way of King County, said he has heard mixed reports from area food banks: Some say fall donations of cash and food appeared down, while others are seeing an increase.

Trish Twomey, food-resources manager at the Fremont Public Association, said most of the Seattle food banks she works with are reporting a decline in food donations this year.

Cash donations, meanwhile, are a different story. Traditionally, she said, the week of Thanksgiving is when people start giving donations.

"Many food banks report donations were about on par or plateauing. They'll have a better idea this week how those are coming in," Twomey said.

The drop in food goods is evident in loads the association has been delivering to centers from area warehouses. "On average, we're hauling loads of about two pallets of food," she said. "Usually we're hauling 10 pallets. The food banks are having to rely on their own resources or funds they had to supplement the donations."

Both monetary and food donations are down at Northwest Harvest, which collects and distributes food to 74 food-service programs throughout the region. Cash donations have dropped by more than 22 percent since September and food donations have dropped 20 percent since July, said Claire Tuohy-Morgan, spokeswoman for Northwest Harvest. Meanwhile, the agency's downtown food bank is serving about 3,000 more households per month.

"Our warehouse is usually full during this time of the holiday season, and it's not," Tuohy-Morgan said. "We'll continue to serve our clients. We're just concerned that if we don't get the amount of donations we normally get how things will be."

Food Lifeline, which distributes to food banks throughout the region, reports an increase in the level of donations. "We're not quite meeting our budgeted goals, but we're not off by any big extent, either," said Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline.

Food Lifeline is part of a national network called America's Second Harvest, and reports from across the country have been mixed, she said.

"We have not seen donation levels go down after any of the big disasters," Nageotte said. "We're not surprised to see that our donors remember that just because there's a disaster somewhere else, does not mean hunger in Western Washington has gone away."

The YWCA Family Village in Redmond, which provides transitional housing and child care for homeless families, has also seen donors continue to give, said Elizabeth Westburg, the YWCA's regional director for East King County. The YWCA raised $70,000 in early October during its annual fundraising and silent auction event — up from $55,000 the previous year, Westburg said.

"It's hard to speculate why we're up," she said. "But I do know that the national media's coverage of the hurricane has highlighted poverty and the inequality gap of the haves and the have nots. I think, yeah, when people see that, they may look locally to see what's working."

Other organizations that provide shelter say they are struggling this year. Friends of Youth, an Eastside organization that supports homeless and at-risk youth, has seen monetary donations drop. The public has also been slow to respond to pleas on its Web site for sheets and blankets for its youth shelters. The nonprofit is hoping contributions will pick up before the end of the year, said Kathleen Barry, development director.

"People in this area are generous, and the most generous get asked to donate the most often," Barry said. "This year, those requests have been far more prevalent. In a year like this, people need to step up to the plate, and then step up to the plate again."

Hopelink, the Eastside's largest social-service agency, has seen a little of both sides — donations to its food banks are down, but its annual fundraising luncheon Nov. 3 raised about $475,000, significantly up from the approximately $325,000 it raised last year, said Doreen Marchione, Hopelink's president and CEO. However, overall, donations for the year are slightly down, she said.

"I'm not sure what it is, but less food is being given, so we're having to use the donations to buy more food," Marchione said. "We think it's because grass-roots efforts are being focused on hurricane victims."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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