Nonprofits stretch the spirit of giving

2009-12-11T03:00:00Z Nonprofits stretch the spirit of givingBy Rachel Beck, Gazette-Times reporter Corvallis Gazette Times
December 11, 2009 3:00 am  • 

Santa may be able to make reindeer fly and gifts appear under trees, but he's not the only one who works some magic in December.

For several local organizations, this time of year is when they work like busy elves to make Christmas happen.

Fewer give; more help needed

Some area nonprofits say donations are down so far in this tough economic year.

Jerry Perrone, community services coordinator for Community Outreach Inc., said the agency might not be able to give gifts to every client in its "adopt a family" program - a far cry from 2008.

"Last year at this time, we pretty much were set," Perrone said.

Clients in the program ask for two items: generally one piece of clothing and one toy for children, or one piece of clothing and a household item for adults.

"For the most part, people are just asking for things they need," Perrone said. "We have individuals who ask for toilet paper or bath towels."

Most of the 300 or so individuals on the list this year are children. Perrone said the ratio of children to adults is "easily" five to one. But so far, about 130 people remain who have not been "adopted." So although applications from clients keep coming in, Perrone has to tell them they're on the waiting list unless more sponsors turn up.

Gifts of unwrapped, new clothes and toys are coming in later, and at a lower volume to the Vina Moses Giving Tree at the U.S. Bank at Fourth Street and Monroe Avenue.

"I can't tell you how desperate it is this year," said tree coordinator Marti Barlow. "It's heartbreaking."

The agency also seeks volunteers and drivers to distribute gifts and food baskets.

Letetia Wilson, crisis response director at the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, said the agency also has noticed fewer donations than normal. CARDV has restricted the gift program to clients who used services in the past year.

"Because of our limited donations, we've had to turn people away, which is hard for us," she said.

The economy seems to be a factor, but Wilson said other people have just decided to donate to a different agency this year in an effort to "spread the wealth."

Stepping up

Not everyone is feeling the pinch.

Wilma VanSchelven, executive director of Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC), said donations to its "Christmas Store" are up. "This year, I would have to say we have had less trouble than before," she said. "People realize it's a hard time for everyone, so they have been really generous."

The Christmas Store allows people to earn vouchers for every hour that they volunteer in the community. One voucher equals one gift, which can be picked out at the agency's store of gifts.

The Love INC program is a growing effort in its third year, and more awareness of the program might be part of why things are improving. This year, the agency served about 20 families at its first-ever Philomath store and expects to have 50 to 60 families at the Corvallis store.

Debbie Thorne, who operates Philomath's Christmas Cheer program, said it seems like demand is higher, but is being met.

"We're also seeing more people, at least in Philomath, stepping up to the plate and wanting to adopt families," she said.

Even the agencies that are having difficulty getting presents are hopeful things will pick up.

"Corvallis is an amazing community, and every year they seem to come through," Perrone said.

In particular, student groups and classes from Oregon State University have donated food and gifts. Last week, members of the Beaver softball team showed up to wrap gifts.

Barlow still believes the community can help break the record of more than 300 presents set last year.

"Holidays are a time when, sure, it's about putting up your tree and decorating your house, but it's also a time for really being thankful for what we have here in Corvallis," she said. "Everyone deserves to get a little present under the tree."

Coordinating the effort

For the first time, several local agencies are coordinating their client lists after noticing last year that some people were getting gifts from several organizations.

"We said, ‘We've got to do this better,'" said VanSchelven.

Jennifer Moore, the executive director of United Way of Benton and Lincoln counties, was asked if she'd act as a facilitator for the groups to coordinate their efforts. The United Way is acting as a "community hub" for the participating agencies.

Vina Moses, Love INC and Holiday Cheer are among the groups who will share their client lists for holiday programs. Clients sign an agreement to allow their names to be shared and got to pick which agency to receive gifts from.

Community Outreach did not participate this year because the timelines didn't work, but Perrone said they plan to take part next year.

Some kinks still need to be smoothed out, but Moore is excited about the effort.

"For an agency to say, ‘we need to get around a table and start talking,' that's really encouraging," Moore said. "We only do better work together from here."

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