Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nonprofits struggle to make ends meet for others

Food banks and emergency services hit harder; other volunteer By ANGELA PATTERSON • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • July 2, 2008organizations hurt in other ways As gas and food prices rise, many households are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. So, some seek help from nonprofit services. But rising costs also affect these organizations, impacting the amount and depth of services they can provide. Nonprofits are finding more people requesting what they offer, yet have less money and resources with which to supply the need. "With the food pantry, we actually ran out of food from having to serve a surplus of clients from other food pantries due to a food donation shortage," said Jennifer Eldridge, the Salvation Army's marketing director.The Second Harvest Food Bank is feeling the same crunch."Second Harvest distributes over 2 million pounds of food per year through our Emergency Food Box Program. With food drives collecting only 700,000 pounds, Second Harvest has had to purchase 1.3 million pounds of food at a cost of $225,000," said program services manager Kelli Garrett. "When there is not enough food from food drives, or funds aren't available, then we have to reduce the amount of food that we distribute."Some nonprofits maintain that services will not be cut or lessened, but increasing costs may push others to close their doors. Need increases for Salvation Army, Second Harvest Record-level gas and food prices are bringing more people to the Salvation Army's doors. Eldridge said in April and May alone, the number of emergency assistance calls received increased from an average of 660 a month to 900 a month ending May 31. "Too many of our clients have to pay the higher prices of fuel, which means less money to spend on needed expenses such as food, utilities and clothing," Eldridge said."With a reduced amount of money for these items, the need for assistance has increased greatly, impacting the services we provide," she said. "The amplified volume of people needing some type of assistance has led to assisting all that apply as long as funds allow."The number of people that Second Harvest Food Bank has served over last year has increased by nearly 10 percent, said program services manager Kelli Garrett."More and more people are turning to the food bank to receive that assistance to get them by," Garrett said.Eldridge said for people on fixed incomes or government assistance, the rising costs create a vicious cycle."They only receive X amount of dollars and cannot afford the increases in fuel and food," Eldridge said. "Others are in search for second and even third jobs. Some of the jobs seekers are wary of working more for fear of losing the food stamps they so dearly depend on. The more income, the less stamps, but due to the increase, people are stuck in a bind with no means of escape." Fuel costs affect groups', volunteers' budgets Even nonprofits that don't deal in necessities have to rethink their operations."We haul a fleet of bicycles to various schools for on-bike education with fourth-graders, and since we haul them in a trailer, fuel cost is sure to affect our budget," said Shannon Hornsby, director of Walk/Bike Nashville. "Especially since this budget was based on fuel cost/federal reimbursement per mileage when the grants were written and the amount we have allocated for fuel is set. We'll likely have to make cuts to other areas of the budget to haul bicycles."Gas prices have left other nonprofits searching for volunteer manpower close to home. "The rising costs of food and gas are directly impacting Better Tomorrows' services," said interim director Ashley Holland, whose organization provides adult literacy and GED classes."We rely heavily on volunteers to help us provide one-on-one attention for our students. We've lost at least one literacy volunteer so far because she could no longer travel from Franklin due to gas prices. That number may continue to increase." Less funding could close Better Tomorrows But the real impact on nonprofits comes from a growing demand and a decreasing supply. When sponsors and donors cut back, these organizations consider doing so as well.Garrett said some of the people who used to donate to Second Harvest have found themselves needing the organization's services in recent months. For Holland, the drop-off in Better Tomorrows sponsorships affects staffing."We're now having trouble funding our budget because foundations, individuals, and other donors who are finding their resources stretched thin are unable to give as much as they have previously. That has not been a problem because our co-founders are passionate about Better Tomorrows' mission and have other resources, so they have been able and willing to work without pay. "Now, however, the two co-founders are leaving — one to focus on healing from cancer, another because of her husband's job transfer. So the nonprofit must hire two permanent full-time employees."Therefore, the economic impact on funding may adversely affect not only our ability to offer services, but our ability to stay open," Holland said.Entities such as the Salvation Army and Second Harvest haven't had to cut services. But if they don't receive more money to fund salaries, smaller organizations like Better Tomorrows may have no choice but to close."That's sad because it means that our students, who are directly affected by high food and gas prices, will also lose an opportunity to get the education they need to improve their situation. (Our own graduate and) literacy tutor Larry Holt said it well, "If we have a literacy problem in this city, then places like this don't need to be closing."It's just going to keep the welfare system overloaded. A lot of people in this community are dependent on this program."

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