The strains on charity fund-raising in metropolitan Baltimore are enormous. Food donations to the Maryland Food Committee's Bags of Plenty drive were down 25 percent this season and financial contributions are lagging 35 percent behind last year. Yet the meals served at the soup kitchens and food pantries it funds have more than doubled. The United Way of Central Maryland is campaigning longer to raise only a little more than it did in 1990; yet donations so far are off 25 percent.
This lopsided equation of burgeoning needs and curtailed giving is apparent throughout the region. The recession that has cost zTC many people their jobs has left people unable or unwilling to help. Some corporate sponsors are themselves in crisis, forced not only to scale back giving, but to lay off employees as well.
The private safety net that has helped thousands -- many of them middle-class people in extraordinary circumstances -- is dangerously close to the breaking point. This calls for new commitments and new approaches. The tireless efforts of volunteers like Bea Gaddy, who fed more than 17,000 needy folks at her annual Thanksgiving feast last week, are truly heroic. But in these tough times, giving can neither be left solely to the rich and the civic-minded nor limited to holiday largess.
What's needed is a realization that everyone who is able to do so should lend a helping hand. The clear message resonating through this recession is that no one is safe. Anyone can be laid off. Savings and unemployment benefits run out. Bills mount up and eventually prove overwhelming. We become vulnerable. This scenario has been played out thousands of times in thousands of families now forced to depend on the goodwill of strangers and government for basic needs.
Charities say the problem isn't so much that people aren't giving, but that they are giving much less. This calls for more contributions from those of us who don't participate in fund-raising. A few dollars doesn't sound like much, but it becomes crucial when multiplied by hundreds or thousands of givers. "Every dollar makes a difference," said United Way spokesman Mel Tansill. "One of the misconceptions is that unless a person gives thousands and thousands, his or her gift won't make a difference."
That goes for companies, too. A small check representing whatever employees can afford is better than nothing at all. Charities welcome all sorts of help. A supermarket chain might ask suppliers to donate damaged goods. Vacant retail space can be used as drop-off centers. Volunteer efforts are especially welcome. The possibilities, like the needs, are endless. Perhaps you missed out on the Bags of Plenty food drive. Perhaps you haven't signed up in your company's United Way campaign. The need in this region is critical and continuing. It's never too late to help.