Though there's plenty of cheer in the air, the holiday season has brought lean times to Baltimore charitable organizations that rely on local giving to distribute toys, food and cash assistance to the needy. Many local charities, including the Salvation Army, Santa Claus Anonymous, the Maryland Food Bank and Mrs. Santa, report that donations are down sharply, even as retailers enjoy one of the best seasons in recent years.
No one is quite sure who to blame for the slump, which could be a lingering result of the poor economy or increasing competition between charitable groups or a combination of both. What is certain is that while the number of needy people has not declined, the resources available to the charitable groups that .. help them have dropped precipitously.
The Maryland Food Bank's "Bags of Plenty" program, for example, is the state's largest food drive. But it raised less than half of its goal of 435,000 pounds of food last month. Similarly, Santa Claus Anonymous has raised only about half the money needed to cover expenses this year and Toys for Tots, sponsored by the Marine Corps Reserves, collected only about 22,000 of the 50,000 children's toys it planned to distribute.
The sluggish pace of giving caught many groups in a time crunch this year. Donations trickled in so slowly that there wasn't time to distribute all the aid they collected. Some charities got a last-minute boost from public service announcements on radio and television. But other groups that might have benefited from public service ads simply couldn't get them aired soon enough.
The difficulties charities are experiencing come on top of recession-induced cutbacks in state and local funding of services for the needy. So the poor are hit with a double whammy. If this season is any sort of barometer, it may be that while the somewhat less gloomy economic outlook for next year has made cautious consumers willing to spend a bit on themselves, the drop in charitable giving reflects continuing uncertainty over whether the economy is really out of the woods yet.
Some groups are still accepting donations. If you haven't given already, do it now and help bring a bit of belated holiday cheer to those in need.