Bangor-area charities see giving shortfall

Posted Dec. 19, 2010, at 8:39 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine -— The holiday season and the year ahead threaten to be tougher than usual for many Bangor-area residents, based on reduced giving to local charities and the continuing economic downturn. Because donations during the holidays pay for meals, shelter, fuel assistance, counseling and other essential programs and services throughout the year, a shortfall now poses long-term difficulties for vulnerable adults and children.

At Manna Ministries in Bangor, director Bill Rae said donations stand at about $40,000 compared with $75,000 last year.

“We’re behind on food, cash donations and gifts for Christmas time,” he said. “Donations are a lot less than last year, but the need is ever so much higher than last year.” This Christmas, he said, Manna has agreed to help 385 area families, 110 more than last holiday season.

Rae said that in addition to seeking help providing gifts for children, many adults are seeking basics such as winter coats and shoes without holes in them.

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“Lots of people who had money and jobs last year have nothing this year,” he said.

Beyond the immediate need, Rae said about 60 percent of his annual operating budget is usually derived during the holidays, when many people feel the spirit of giving most strongly.

At The Salvation Army, Capt. Tim Clark said contributions at the familiar storefront kettles and through the Santa’s Helper Fund are down. Kettle donations in the Bangor area to date have reached about $70,000 compared with about $100,000 last Christmas, he said, and the Santa’s Helper Fund has reached only about $40,000 of its $60,000 target.

“I think overall people are wanting to help others, but they’re wary about giving away cash they may need themselves,” he said.

United Way of Eastern Maine funds a number of programs that help low-income residents, said spokeswoman Emma Pope-Welch. Instead of seeking spontaneous donations from holiday-minded shoppers, the organization focuses on enrolling individuals in work place plans that deduct a weekly donation throughout the year. The money goes to help provide meals for the elderly, after-school programs, homeless shelters, tax-preparation services, fuel assistance and other services that promote economic stability in the area, Pope-Welch said.

“This year, more so than last, company leadership communicated that the economy was going to make for a tough year,” she wrote in an e-mail.

In response, United Way of Eastern Maine reduced its annual campaign goal from $2.5 million last year to $2.2 million this year, but still participation is falling short, she said.

“This community has a responsibility to help the invisible people — the needy, the poor, the homeless, the alcoholics and drug addicts,” said Bill Rae. Although times are hard for many families, he hopes those who are able will dig a little deeper to help care for those who are less fortunate.

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