The stream of newly jobless men and women struggling to save their homes has been incessant.
Assembly line workers from Westinghouse. Nurses from the Homewood Hospital Center. Insurance agents from everywhere. And beauticians who have learned that many of their clients just can't afford to get their hair done anymore.
But the same economic forces that have sent so many people to the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore are threatening the agency's ability to respond. Contributions to St. Ambrose have fallen in the past year, forcing it to lay off four workers of its own. More cuts will follow unless the center's financial appeals are more fruitful than they have been of late.
"I look in the paper every day and see a thousand layoffs here and 500 there. Of course, I'm worried," said Vincent Quayle, the center's director.
Throughout the Baltimore area, non-profit agencies are being buffeted by a cruel paradox of recession. Lines are longer than ever at soup kitchens, housing shelters and even counseling programs that help families through the emotional toll of financial hardship. But many of the people who usually support such causes aren't in a position to send money this year.
They're in the lines now, too.
More than 13,000 workers have been laid off in the past year just from the companies that run employee drives for the United Way of Central Maryland. Officials there are so worried about raising the cash their agencies need that they have extended the annual fund-raising campaign from the usual three months to five.
Officials at non-profit agencies are almost always nervous as they enter the traditional holiday fund-raising season because they depend on it so much: Many programs raise the bulk of their annual budgets in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In most years, their fears have been unfounded.
In each of the past 20 years, Americans as a group have given more money to non-profit causes than they did the year before -- even in times of recession.
But this year, charitable agencies appear to have real cause for concern.
This recession comes after a decade in which most Americans saw their real incomes fall as salaries failed to keep pace with inflation, and even the experts aren't willing to predict whether people will feel they can give this season.
"We are in a very extraordinary time here, and it's hard to know what will happen. . . . Giving may decrease for the first time," said Joanne Hayes, president of the American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, a trade association for fund-raising consultants that is known for its research about giving patterns.
Charities have own layoffs
Locally, there is particular concern this year because many non-profits already are in a state of financial crisis.
Some saw donations fall sharply this time last year, and they've been in retrenchment ever since. Others just learned that promised state aid has been canceled because of the government's financial woes. And others are grappling with financial problems that beset non-profits even in good times.
At Jubilee Jobs, which tries to find work for the unemployed, more than $80,000 in foundation grants expired as expected in the past year and a half.
But director Charles Duff hasn't been able to find enough new contributors to replace them. So he has laid off four of the program's staff, trimmed every other expense he can think of, and turned as much work as possible over to volunteers.
Mr. Duff says he is prepared, if necessary, to look for other ways to pare what's left of his budget, but a weariness is evident in his voice.
"I think it's probably a good thing every 10 years or so for an organization to have to prune itself, but it's not a good way to live forever," Mr. Duff said.
"It certainly is horrible that we've had to pull back at precisely the time that the need is growing."
The YWCA of Greater Baltimore has been rocked by a loss of revenue that began more than a year ago, when enrollment dropped off at the agency's 28 day-care centers as some parents lost jobs.
To make up for the shortfall, YWCA director Jane Christie asked the staff of all her programs to give up five days' pay over the year.
Then Ms. Christie learned last month that the state won't be sending nearly $30,000 in grants that help pay for the agency's three homeless shelters and another program for foster-care babies.
Ms. Christie says she will have no choice but to shut down programs and permanently lay off staff unless she replaces that money. She is trying to look at the challenge as manageable.
"We need to find 1,200 people who haven't given before and who are willing to send us $25 now," she said.
Esther Reaves, director of the Mid-Town Churches Community Association, recently described her mood as one of "quiet desperation." The generosity of 90 area churches helps the group to run four housing shelters and a soup kitchen, but Mrs. Reaves needs to raise another $60,000 each year from other contributors. Last year, she fell $15,000 short.
As a result, she was forced to close the North Baltimore soup kitchen for three weeks in July and, in August and September, to serve just five days a week instead of seven. The hardship the closings caused became apparent when the program resumed its normal schedule in October -- and served 1,000 more meals than any previous month in its history.
Mrs. Reaves expects the lines to grow even longer next month, when welfare recipients will see their checks cut back to 1989 levels because of the state's fiscal problems.
"We're praying a lot that the money comes in this year. Because we can't tell our clients to go away," Mrs. Reaves said.