Salvation Army reports steep decline in donations

Outpouring for Hurricane Katrina victims is main reason funds for local programs are falling short

March 21, 2006|By NICOLE FULLER | NICOLE FULLER,SUN REPORTER

The greater Baltimore chapter of the Salvation Army says contributions for local programs have dropped sharply, chiefly because of an outpouring of donations to Hurricane Katrina victims.

For the fiscal year that will end in September, the chapter expects the 2005-2006 budget to fall short by about $450,000, meaning possible cuts in programs that have been valuable to some of the community's neediest people for decades, said Maj. Jim Arrowood, the Salvation Army's Baltimore-area commanding officer.

In hopes of sustaining programs, the chapter expects to step up phone calls and mailings to more than 20,000 regular donors, hoping to raise money to make up for the shortfall before a self-imposed deadline of the end of May.

"On one hand, gosh, we are so appreciative of the support and the confidence that people have in the Salvation Army in helping the victims [of Hurricane Katrina], and we will for a long time," Arrowood said. "But there are still people here in our community that are facing their own natural disasters every day."

The nearly 8 percent shortfall has resulted largely because many of the organization's regular donors have earmarked their contributions for victims of the hurricane, he said.

Arrowood also noted a weak regional economy that has caused donors to decrease their gift sizes. He said a typical annual donation of $1,000 has decreased, on average, to a $300 gift. He also said operating expenses for the organization have increased because of higher energy and gasoline prices.

In the midst of the budget pinch, more people are seeking help, Arrowood said.

"What we're seeing more and more, we're not seeing those who are struggling for years. We're seeing people who are suddenly finding themselves in these situations and having to ask for help. Those numbers are rising," Arrowood said. "There's just a greater need throughout the area, especially in Baltimore City."

The chapter runs 12 service centers and Boys & Girls Clubs in the city and in Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and northern Anne Arundel counties. In Columbia, it offers classes in English as a second language. In Westminster, workers collaborate with Meals on Wheels, which provides hot food to the elderly and infirm.

The Salvation Army also runs Booth House, a 75-bed transitional housing and homeless shelter in the 1100 block of N. Calvert St., Camp Puh'tok in northern Baltimore County and the Feedmore program, which delivers food, blankets and clothing to the homeless.

The chapter's operating budget is slightly more than $6 million annually.

By contrast, the local chapter of the United Way raised $39.2 million in its 2005 campaign, coming within 2 percent of its 2004 total. The United Way contributes 6 percent of the Salvation's Army annual budget.

"We had a pretty strong message, and a pretty easy message for people to understand, which was: Yes, by all means support our neighbors in the Gulf Coast states, but remember we have crises here every day and the United Way is here addressing those crises," United Way spokesman Patrick Smith said.

In the past five years, since Arrowood began overseeing the Salvation Army's Baltimore chapter, it has trimmed about a million dollars from its operating budget. In 2003, it closed two of its day care programs in the city and sold the buildings where they had operated, he said.

"We have really looked internally, really nickeled and dimed everything from office supplies to janitorial supplies to make sure we are the best stewards of what is given to us, and we're just financially struggling," Arrowood said. "And really, the ones that are going to feel this the most are the ones we help. And the bottom line is: If we can't afford to do what we're doing, we're going to have to shut some things down."

Arrowood said he can't imagine which programs he would cut.

"I've said, `Guys, what do we stop doing?' When you look at everything we're doing, I mean, my goodness, we're just watching everything that we're doing. If we don't come up with the funding by the end of May, we're going to have to make some very difficult decisions."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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