WAYS TO GIVE: Nonprofits battle shortened holiday season

Dec. 17, 2013 @ 11:38 AM

Whether it’s turkeys, coats or cash, local nonprofits are feeling the gift-giving crunch as Christmas comes around faster this year.

Thanksgiving fell a week later than usual on the calendar, giving donation drives six fewer days to sway people to open their wallets or give a new toy.

The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, for example, is down $29,500 compared to this same time last year. Even though the organization has volunteers ringing the iconic bell at 25 storefronts, they’ve lost crucial time to gather money, said Martin Banning, resource development director for The Salvation Army of Durham, Orange and Person counties.

“Losing that week has definitely put a strain and stress on us,” Banning said.

That money goes toward The Salvation Army’s annual, local programs, such as food assistance and Christmas presents during the holidays. This week alone, they’re giving presents to 2,300 children. In their “toy shop” off North Duke Street, they had about 550 bikes and hundreds of presents ready to give away.

They run a food pantry, provide rent and utility assistance, as well as plan programs that help people get back into the job market. About 100 children attend their after-school program, which has seen an up-tick in attendance.

But if the organization doesn’t meet its holiday donation goal, The Salvation Army will have to make some tough decisions. They’ll have to serve fewer people or provide fewer resources.

They knew this was coming, Banning said, once they kicked off their new fiscal year Oct. 1, but they didn’t know how hard it was going to affect them.

“For a lot of people, it means there’s one less week of shopping,” he said, “but for The Salvation Army, it means we have less time to raise those funds.”

The Volunteer Center of Durham Share Your Christmas program is facing the same dilemma. About 200 families and foster children have yet to be sponsored for the holidays, said Executive Director Kim Shaw.

The families and foster children they serve are recommended by the Durham County Department of Social Services. The organization also is behind on its cash contributions. Their goal is $20,000, and they’ve raised about 60 percent of that so far.

“This is a little higher than usual,” Shaw said of the number of unsponsored families. “What’s great is the community seems to come through whenever we say we need more families to be sponsored. We just live in a very generous area.”

She said their families have asked for everyday items such as blankets for their beds or book bags, dolls or Dr. Seuss books for the children. She said some of the older folks they serve have even asked for socks or toilet paper.

“Holy cow, that just tears at you,” Shaw said. “... What we try to do is communicate to as many people as possible the needs of the community. We can’t do it ourselves, but with everyone’s help, we can do it.”

Gail Mills with the Durham Rescue Mission, a faith-based, long-term homeless shelter off East Main Street, said they are in the middle of collecting thousands of toys and turkeys for Christmas Eve, when they’re hosting a toy giveaway and holiday meal.

Mills said a girl from Little River Elementary School helped organize a toy drive for the mission, in which she asked for toy donations instead of toys for herself for her 9th birthday. A former resident of the mission stopped by and donated a turkey.

Mills said she’s keeping her fingers crossed that they’ll have all they donations they need by Christmas Eve.

“You’re told not to count all your chickens before they hatch,” she said.

Eric Jeffers with the John Avery Boys & Girls Club of Durham said the organization recently partnered with local entrepreneurs as well as N.C. Central University to kick off a toy and coat drive. He said they’re looking for more toy donations, and gathering coats is important because he sees children visit the club in T-shirts and shorts during winter weather.

“What’s out of style for you can be in fashion for someone else,” Jeffers said. “A lot of people can take whatever they can because they don’t receive as much.”

He said they serve 130 kids a day. As an NCCU grad student who grew up within the Boys & Girls Club, he recently had the children participate in Adopt-a-Highway events and is teaching teens how to keep a budget. They’ve also held 14 college tours since March.

The club’s toy and coat giveaway for the community will be held Dec. 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at NCCU’s LeRoy T. Walker Physical Education and Recreation Complex.

“The smallest gift is better than the greatest intention,” Jeffers said.