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The Need is Great 

CL's Giving Guide

For some folks, this year's sluggish economy and plunging stock market have meant perhaps a few less nights out on the town, scaling back on vacation plans, or maybe postponing some big-ticket purchases. But for thousands of less fortunate Charlotteans, it's meant another night sleeping outside in the cold, or another day without a hot meal. Compounding the problem is the fact that like most businesses, Charlotte's charity agencies and organizations have had to do some belt-tightening as the number of donations and gifts has decreased. This means less available funds for providing the needy with essentials like food, clothing, shelter and health care. These same charity organizations are hoping that those more fortunate step up to the plate and help out those who are truly experiencing hard times, especially during the holidays.

"We're in for a challenging year," said Doug Hartjes, Director of Development at Crisis Assistance Ministry. "Some major gifts will not be renewed, and individual donations are not keeping pace with the rate of inflation. So we're going to have to look for new sources of funding in order to meet our goals, especially if the economy continues the way it is. Even people with the deep pockets are holding back and being more careful about their donations."

Hartjes says the floundering economy is particularly trying for the poor because as the number of donations dwindles, the number of people who need help increases. "The need is great in the Charlotte community," he said. "We've had more people come through our doors this year looking for assistance than ever before. There are a lot of us who are more fortunate than others, and have the ability to still give. We hope that those people will come out of the woodwork during the holidays."

Compounding the struggles of charity organization and the poor are county budget cuts, as well as the United Way's new, and widely criticized, policy of allowing donors to designate contributions to specific groups. This has resulted in a lot of funds going outside the community and away from the local network of charities within the United Way Agency.

"This affects all the agencies because most of us work so closely together," said Karen Montaperto, Executive Director of Charlotte Emergency Housing. "For instance, United Family Services couldn't afford to send their Consumer Credit Counseling services to our site this year because of the cuts. So it really has a domino effect."

Montaperto added that they had to lay off a social worker because of the increases in health insurance costs. "When the economy goes sour, the people that are living in poverty or close to poverty are the first ones to feel it," she said. "But when it gets better, they're the last ones to recover. Their income doesn't go up as much as most other people, and their expenses, like housing, go up a lot more. It's the irony of living in poverty."

Linda Castleberry, Director of Development at Community Link, said they were forced to cut their domestic violence program by $116,000 this year. "We serve about 3,000 people a year, primarily on a long-term basis," she said. "The vast majority are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and most have come from a domestic violence situation. So it was really tough when we had to make cuts in that program. We are continuously going to foundations, corporations and individuals that have an interest in what we do, and who have been partners with us through the years. I think the people are there, but there are more agencies competing for funds. There are people who are still opening up their pocketbooks, but I think the amount is not as great as in the past. But we're fortunate people are still giving."

Considering that the poor are being hardest hit by the current recession, CL is urging readers to remember the underlying reasons for the holiday season and give as generously as possible to those organizations that help those most in need. Following is a list of agencies and organizations that could use your time or money or both.

-- Sam Boykin

Adult Care and Share Center -- Provides day care to older and disabled adults. Services include therapeutic activities, assistance with medical needs, three nutritious meals daily, and caregiver support group. Material needs: Financial contributions, computer printers, cameras, Bingo prizes (Male & Female).Volunteers needed.To help: Call Maddy Stein or Luann Peters, 704-567-2700.

Alexander Children's Center -- Serves children ages 5-18 with emotional and behavioral problems. Material needs: New clothing and toys. Volunteer needs: People to help with a holiday "store." To help: Call Andrea Towner, 704-362-6760.

American Red Cross -- Teaches life-saving health education courses, responds to disasters, educates the community on how to prepare for an emergency, collects blood, provides transportation to medical appointments, supplies emergency communications for military personnel, and provides international tracing services. Material needs: Life-saving blood donations and monetary donations to support local efforts. Volunteer needs: Especially those with daytime availability. To help: Call 704-376-1661.

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