In a season for giving, charitable donations are down

December 23, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Staff Writer Staff writer Mark Guidera contributed to this article.

Christmas is coming, but the goose is far from fat at some local charitable organizations that dispense toys, food and cash assistance to the needy.

No one is sure who is playing Scrooge in this scenario -- the economy or the increasing competition for contributions -- but donations are down sharply, even as retailers report one of their best seasons in recent years.

The charitable organizations that are suffering include the Salvation Army, Santa Claus Anonymous and Mrs. Santa, all of which have been helping the needy for at least 40 years. "We need help," said Barbara Brown of Santa Claus Anonymous.

The charity distributed $550,000 in gift certificates to 30,000 families this Christmas season, but has raised only half of the money needed to cover its costs -- the certificates and one paid staff person.

"The competition is fierce, it really is," said Ms. Brown.

Bags of Plenty, the state's largest food drive, raised less than half of its goal of 435,000 pounds in November, although yearlong donations to the Maryland Food Bank were a record 1.5 million pounds.

The fund-raising campaign of Bags of Plenty, which began just before Thanksgiving and continues through Jan. 1., has received $100,000 toward its goal of $130,000, but sponsors are concerned they may fall short for the second year in a row. Last year, they had hoped to raise $150,000 but ended up with $125,000.

Some drives, however, show signs of thriving. In some cases, impulse giving seems to be as prevalent as impulse shopping.

For example, Family and Children Services of Central Maryland, a nonprofit agency that collected toys for foster children and needy families, saw its accumulation of presents stolen in a weekend burglary. But the attendant publicity generated even more toys -- about 500 in all, five times what the agency had originally collected. Ironically, 300 of those toys were sent to Toys for Tots, but arrived too late for that group to distribute.

At United Way of Central Maryland, contributions were lagging badly in the first half of the four-month campaign, but they have doubled over the past four weeks. About $28.3 million has now been pledged, up from $12.8 million in late November. Officials say they are now hopeful of reaching the $40 million target when the campaign ends Jan 31. And the Coats for Kids campaign, sponsored by WBAL radio and television and the Maryland Dry Cleaners Association, collected 23,000 winter coats for children, up from 18,000 last year.

Wanda Q. Draper, public affairs director for WBAL, said Coats for Kids had the advantage of an aggressive advertising campaign, which included pleas during radio and TV weather forecasts.

Now other groups are clamoring for last-minute public service announcements, Ms. Draper said.

But it's too late for some, such as Toys for Tots, sponsored by the Marine Corps Reserves. The group began collecting toys at Thanksgiving and distributed its last batch over the weekend. "Our goal was 50,000 toys," said Sgt. Kevin Williams, but the group only received 22,000.

"It was slow," Sergeant Williams said. "Maybe it's the economy. One of our biggest contributors, the Toll Facilities Police, they just didn't get them in."

Toys for Tots are collected at bins at toll facilities, area malls and schools. O'Conor, Piper & Flynn Realtors also collected toys, but James Piper III, president of administration, said it appeared there were fewer, albeit more expensive items.

Time is running out for Mrs. Santa, an adopt-a-family program underwritten by the Afro-American Newspapers that runs through Christmas. This year, Mrs. Santa received 760 requests for help but found assistance for only 150. The other families will receive food baskets and toys at the newspaper's offices, with the Korean Businessmen's League of Greater Baltimore contributing 150 food baskets.

At the Salvation Army, cash donations for the special Thanksgiving-Christmas appeal are down from last year, from $539,000 to $374,000. In-kind donations from corporations, such as toys and Christmas stockings, are off by more than half.

"One of the corporations we worked with was Westinghouse, and they've lost employees and morale is down," said Charles Blackburn, director of development.

Operation Santa Claus, a fund-raiser and toy drive sponsored by area motorcyclists, came through with the same number of toys for the Salvation Army this year, Mr. Blackburn said, but provided $25,000 less in cash. Still, the Salvation Army collected toys from churches and other groups and managed to serve the same number of children, about 4,000 in 1,800 families.

Even cash donations at the Salvation Army's ubiquitous kettles are believed to be down, although there will be no official tally until after the holidays, Mr. Blackburn said.

WHERE TO GIVE

Although Christmas is just two days away, some groups can still use donations or help. They include:

Bags of Plenty (through Dec. 31)

c/o Maryland Food Committee

P.O. Box 23709

Baltimore, 21203

Mrs. Santa campaign

c/o Afro-American Newspaper

628 N. Eutaw St.Baltimore, 21201

Santa Claus Anonymous (through Dec. 31)

c/o Carrollton Bank

2 Charles Plaza

Baltimore, 21201

Salvation Army

2602 Huntingdon Ave.

Baltimore, 21211

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