Help for Marylanders in need

Our view : With so many struggling and donations down, United Way fund offers hope

January 25, 2009

It's been a difficult winter in Baltimore so far. Joblessness, evictions and utility costs are on the rise. For charitable groups such as St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore, the problem is getting worse by the hour. While needs have grown, contributions have fallen - that's the cold, hard reality of the nation's economic downturn.

The recently announced Emergency Response Fund set up by the United Way of Central Maryland is vital for sustaining these nonprofit programs and helping people with immediate need for food and shelter. The organization's goal is to raise $1 million to be given out in modest $10,000 to $25,000 grants with no overhead or administrative deductions involved.

That's music to the ears of St. Vincent de Paul, where the 75-bed Sarah's Hope shelter for homeless women and children on Mount Street might be able to add temporary beds to house a few more families if funds became available. Right now, they're turning families away.

The charity's soup kitchen, Beans and Bread, in Upper Fells Point might be able to stay open on Wednesdays and Sundays instead of closing as it does now. Then there's the fund St. Vincent officials manage to help families who can't pay their utility bills. It's already 75 percent depleted and the winter isn't even halfway over. A little help now could spare families from facing shut-offs or evictions down the road.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Safety-net programs are fraying not just in the city but in suburban counties as well. It reaches from Health Care for the Homeless, which operates clinics in Baltimore as well as Frederick and Montgomery counties, to Pikesville-based Prologue Inc., where a program that helps secure permanent housing for people living in homeless shelters has run out of money. Both organizations are in line for United Way grants - should the money become available.

So far, United Way has collected about $200,000 for the fund, most of it from businesses and foundations, but so much more needs to be done. This is the time for the average Marylander to step up and contribute. It requires only that you write a check made payable to the United Way Response Fund and mail it to: United Way Response Fund, Attention: Pamela Jackson, 100 S. Charles St., 5th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21201.

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