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Donations to Pa. charities normal but requests for help increase

December 08, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. - Franklin County, Pa., charities were bracing themselves for diminished giving during this economically challenged holiday season, but their leaders have been pleasantly surprised to find donations about normal.

However, all report a substantial increase in requests for basic necessities like food, gasoline and rent money.

"The need is much higher than before," said Jane Birt, director of Waynesboro Area Human Services.

The agency has signed up 25 to 30 new clients each month since the spring, she said.

"I was afraid about contributions, but they're up there," Birt said. "They're doing well."

In September, the United Way of Franklin County announced an $800,000 fundraising goal.

"We're at 48 percent right now, which, for us, is on track," said Amy Hicks, executive director of the agency in Franklin County.

Results are pending from 100 employee campaigns held at various businesses. Those typically account for the last major "push" to meet the United Way's fundraising goal.

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Some individual donors have contributed more than in years past, saying they know there are added concerns during a recession, Hicks said.

"We have more people with needs than what we've ever had," she said.

The 28 county agencies that receive United Way funding report more requests for food and gas vouchers, utilities assistance and beds at the homeless shelter, according to Hicks.

Those needs, along with youth and hospice programs, prompt United Way agencies to help 45,500 people a year in Franklin County.

"Statistically speaking, that's one in three people in the county. ... Going into this winter, I'm finding the requests are only going to go up," Hicks said.

Dick Shook, board treasurer for Waynesboro's The Lunch Place, anticipated the number of meals served daily would decrease when school resumed this fall. The number served has traditionally dropped off at that time.

However, with no decrease in sight, The Lunch Place has been serving an average of 56 meals between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. each day.

"There are some more people coming in," Shook said.

Fortunately, Shook said, the monetary and food donations have remained steady for the free-meal program hosted in Christ United Methodist Church.

Maj. Duane Harris said he is unsure what to expect from his first kettle campaign with The Salvation Army's office in Chambersburg, Pa. The organization can operate up to 20 stands at any given time, but has been unable to do so because it lacks enough volunteers to ring bells.

The Salvation Army's soup kitchen on U.S. 30 served 29,000 meals this year, according to Harris, who recently transferred from Milton, Pa., with his wife, Kim.

Others involved with The Salvation Army have reportedly told Harris that need-based requests are 25 to 30 percent above average. More than 400 Franklin County families will be assisted by The Salvation Army this Christmas, he said.

Birt, of Waynesboro Area Human Services, said 80 families were "adopted" for the holidays so their clothing and gift needs will be met. Another 42 went without sponsors.

About 250 boxes of food will be packed soon and distributed for Christmas, Birt said.

She continues to be impressed by the monetary contributions made by community members who undoubtedly have strained finances of their own.

"A lot of them will say they know there are people who need more than they do," she said.

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