The Destiny Foundation of Central Florida, a lifeline for thousands of the working poor, is planning to close at the end of the month -- a victim of the recession and its own success in helping a growing flock of desperate families.
The charity, housed in a sprawling, rented warehouse on West Michigan Street in Orlando, has served an estimated 10,000 people a month with subsidized groceries, clothing, medical care, emergency assistance and counseling to help them find jobs and other aid. The closing of one of the area's largest anti-poverty organizations leaves a gaping hole, supporters said, and others predicted that more nonprofits could soon face a similar fate.
Scott George, the affable pastor who started the charity eight years ago, put his head in his hands Thursday and wept.
"I am numb," he said at the end of a long day spent fielding questions and breaking the news to supporters. "I have given eight years. I have given my savings, I have given my life. And it wasn't enough."
Without an immediate infusion of $200,000 and a free or low-cost building that would allow the charity to continue its mission, it will close Sept. 30.
George said he continued to hope for a miracle. He just couldn't see one on the horizon.
Michael Makatura, the charity's chief operating officer, said that George and his wife, Tammi, poured "six figures" of their own savings into the operation and that George worked half of last year without salary to keep it afloat.
"They walked the talk. That's why I'm here."
Makatura recently gave up his job in Richmond, Va., and moved to Orlando to work for George, his former pastor, because he believed in the cause.
But in the worst economy since the Great Depression, the charity simply could not sustain its budget, George said. Demand this year was up 40 percent at the same time that donations had plunged 40 percent. It is $200,000 in debt to vendors and private lenders.
"If we keep going, it would be $300,000 by the end of the year," George said.
The board of directors voted Tuesday night to suspend operations at the end of the month. Already the foundation's Compassion Outreach Center -- where caseworkers counseled struggling families to help them apply for government aid and look for work -- has closed. The Greater Orlando Food Outreach, which offers emergency aid and subsidized groceries, remained open, along with the clothing bank and, for now, a medical clinic.
In the spring, Destiny launched the free clinic for uninsured and underinsured children, providing care for the sick, immunizations, developmental screenings and well-child visits. "The People's Clinic" was bankrolled in large part by personal-injury attorney John Morgan and hailed as a much-needed antidote to the health-care crisis for the working poor.
Since opening in January, the clinic has served more than 1,700 children. But like the rest of the facility, the clinic is housed on property the charity can no longer afford to rent.
"We've had wonderful supporters," George said. "Nobody needs to hang their heads. We did what we could."
Even as he spoke, a steady stream of people filled shopping baskets with low-cost groceries and free bread.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," said Sandee Corbino, an Orlando woman in her 50s. She loaded an aging compact with bananas, juice, bread and a few sweaters from the clothing bank. "It's really a shame."
Though the news came as a shock to some, earlier this year George had warned of hard times ahead. The charity launched a fundraising campaign in June called "Save Our Summer" -- or S.O.S. -- and led tours of the facility, hoping that potential donors would be moved by what they saw.
"Without an outpouring of support from our community," Scott said at the time, the pantry would have to close.
At the time, the nonprofit was serving 7,000 people at its food pantry and had hundreds of volunteers.
"But the flood of people just kept coming," George said. "Helping more people was our demise."
That flood, other social-service leaders said, will not retreat. It will only hit elsewhere.
"The capacity of our 530 [food bank] partners in six counties has been strained beyond the limit," said Dave Krepcho, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. "They can't find the funds, they can't find the volunteers, they're having to lay off staff, and a handful of them have closed already. Many are turning people away because they are just tapped out."
"A number of agencies that provide services to the needy, indigent and homeless are in the same situation," said Wright, who serves on the Coalition for the Homeless board of directors. "I think we'll see an increase in number of people in line at Coalition for evening meals and an increase in homelessness. To hearken back to George Bush Sr., there's only so much wattage that you can crank out of the Thousand Points of Light."
In fact, Destiny had tried in recent months to roll back expenses, cutting its paid staff from a high of 30 down to just six. And the landlord had given the place a break on rent.
"I'm so sad to know they're closing," said Sherrald Blanchard of Orlando, a woman in her 60s who had just received help at the food-outreach center. "They were doing an awesome mission here. They showed people compassion. They showed love."
Kate Santich can be reached at 407-420-5503 or email@example.com.