Harrisburg Facing Challenging Kettle Season

Nov 30, 2020 | by Ivey DeJesus

In the 30-plus weeks since it put its operations into emergency mode, the Salvation Army of Harrisburg has provided more than 500,000 meals to families in need.

For context, the organization distributed 250,000 meals from the food pantry in all of last year.

Similarly, even as the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank races to meet the dramatic increase in demand for emergency food assistance, it is struggling to meet the logistical challenges of collecting donated food from grocery stores, sorting it and distributing it to families.

The compounded crisis of the coronavirus and subsequent economic fallout has ushered in unprecedented demands for help with basic needs, including food, shelter, rent and utilities assistance.

Now, as the traditional season of giving begins, organizations that provide that help are struggling to raise the money they need to continue their missions.

The pandemic has scuttled fundraising staples, such as walks, runs and food drives. Many potential donors are working from home, so company fundraisers for nonprofits are more challenging. Even the roster of volunteers has shrunk.

“Our needs are through the roof,” said Kathy Anderson-Martin, director of resource development for the Salvation Army Harrisburg. “The needs have skyrocketed.”

The organization has since February seen its family caseload grow from 30 families or households a month to 135.

The overriding concern among heads of nonprofits is the challenge of sustaining services amid fluctuating charitable giving. After all, the coronavirus has affected families across the board with job losses and furloughs. And that is having an impact on donations.

“There are certain sectors that are doing exceptionally well,” said Tim Fatzinger, president and CEO of the United Way of the Capital Region. “A lot of people gave to COVID efforts. People were very responsive to that. Typically people in this area, when a disaster or issues hit, the community rallies around. That was no different for COVID. A lot of fundraising took place. The problem is everything else has not done well. That’s where we see a struggle.”

The annual United Way fundraising campaign is underway, so the numbers will not be out for a few weeks, but Fatzinger already has concerns.

“We are concerned about the campaign this year,” he said. “We are about halfway there. There are areas that are doing well and areas are not doing so well. That is a concern for us, especially the long-term effort.” A bright spot recently was a fundraiser that has always been primarily online: the 9th Extraordinary Give, a 24-hour online giving marathon sponsored by the Lancaster County Community Foundation. The event, which last year raised almost $11 million, set a new record Friday night, raising $13.4 million to benefit 522 nonprofits.

Most charitable organizations, like the United Way, have seen an increase in donations linked directly to pandemic relief efforts. Food assistance programs, in particular, have seen generous community response.

Even the so-called donor-advised funding brokered by financial institutions such as Fidelity and Vanguard have seen healthy contributions, as well as the smaller GoFundMe-type efforts.

But the missions that fall somewhere in between these categories, Fatzinger said, remain in jeopardy in the face of the protracted pandemic.

“Employment changes have impacted a lot of people,” he said. “I think we are seeing a struggle. The heart and cancer associations. They are struggling. They couldn’t do their fundraising, their walks. A lot of them had to maneuver to go virtual but I don’t think those efforts have been as big a success.”

‘Nonprofits may shutter’

Charitable giving directed at COVID-19 relief has seen a robust response, but overall, the trend to give may not be as generous as is typical.

An April Gallup poll, for instance, found that about 70 percent of American adults said they donated money to a charitable organization in the past year. A more recent report from Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that more than half of U.S. households had given to charity to help their neighbors through the crisis.

One-third of U.S. households gave money directly to charitable organizations, other individuals or businesses, according to the report. But even as donations designated for pandemic relief have continued, some studies show that the level of giving is significantly lower than other years, even when compared to the charitable giving rate of the Great Recession. With unemployment on the rise, Americans may be less likely to designate their income toward altruistic causes.

The coming weeks and months could prove to be precarious for charitable groups.

“It’s challenging. We are concerned that nonprofits may shutter as a result of some of these unique strains,” said Grace Nicolette of the Center for Effective Philanthropy in Cambridge, Mass.

Indeed, the pandemic is forcing charitable organizations to take stock of how they fulfill their mission and continue sustainable fundraising amid the restrictions of the pandemic.

Joe Arthur, head of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, said that from the start of the pandemic, the local community has been inspiring in the amount of support it has provided to the organization.

“It’s really been a strong support from people in general,” he said. “We’ve had support from our donors plus new donors who are very worried about hunger and the crisis. It’s been total community generosity.”

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which has been operating in disaster mode since early March, has seen the need for food assistance skyrocket in the ensuing months. The organization saw a leveling out in the demand for assistance correlate with the rollout of the federal stimulus aid, but that changed as the money ran out.

“That seems to have been spent through from a household perspective,” Arthur said. “We are now seeing demand pick up again as we approach the holidays.” The mechanism of procuring and delivering food to families remains overriding concerns.

Charitable organizations like the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank are finding it increasingly difficult to staff the supply chain entailed in collecting food and parceling it out to families. The price of food, Arthur said, does not help. “It’s a monumental amount of food,” he said. “We do have needs moving forward. We will continue to buy truck loads of food every day in an environment where food prices are increasing. We are asking folks to be generous with funds and here in Harrisburg, we are taking volunteers at the packing center.”

The packing center is located at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Grim forecast for Salvation Army

Anderson-Martin of the Salvation Army said the community’s response has been robust, but she still worries about the upcoming months - not to mention the viability of the red kettle campaign, which relies as much on the generosity of donors as much as foot traffic and volunteers to staff the locations.

“We expect that to be down significantly for a lot of reasons,” she said.

The forecast for the organization is grim. Before the pandemic hit, the Salvation Army in Harrisburg was fulfilling emergency food assistance to about 500-700 people a month. In April that number shot up to 3,900. The organization has added 1,600 new families to its rolls — the majority of them affected by job losses, reduced hours or furloughs, and even the challenge of having children at home.

“We will be struggling,” Anderson-Martin said. “We can’t sustain those levels of needs indefinitely.” At the same time, the pandemic has forced organizations to abandon traditional methods of fundraising. The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, for instance, is not sponsoring the traditional food drives that annually bolstered inventories to sustainable levels. “It’s not safe to bring people together,” Arthur said. “It’s not the thing to do right now.”

The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas appeal for children’s gifts — the Angel Tree Tags — is taking a hit this year amid widespread remote working that has emptied office spaces and other workplaces. Typically, businesses might sponsor several hundred if not 1,000 children for gifts, but with people largely working from home this year, that is not happening.

Each October, the American Cancer Society typically sees dramatic fundraising totals from its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk, with thousands strolling along the Harrisburg riverfront. This year, the society hosted a drive-through event that saw participants decorate their cars in place of the traditional all-pink getups.

Anticipating reduced levels of fundraising, the organization changed the projections, so that while it raised more than expected, the totals were still significantly below what was raised last year.

“It did not perform well, but compared to the projection, they did very well,” said Dan Tobin, spokesman for the American Cancer Society. “When you really look at it, the team in Harrisburg sat down and said this is what we think we can do this year, and considering all the barriers and obstacles, they outperformed their expectations. That was a success story.”

So far, the American Cancer Society has raised more than $407,000 from the October campaigns, which include Real Men Wear Pink. “For organizations like us that rely heavily on grassroots efforts, not being able to hold our events has had an impact on us,” Tobin said. “Also we are trying to get people to realize that we need the mission funded even if you are not going to an event.”

The organization is looking at a $200 million shortfall nationwide. On top of that, in June the organization, which has about 4,000 employees, laid off roughly 1,000 of its workers.

“Our big fear is that if we can’t raise the amount of revenue we need, the research working to find a cure is in danger of being cut,” Tobin said. “That’s really serious. The research going on today is working on a potential cure for tomorrow.” Fatzinger of the United Way worries about the compounding effects of the pandemic.

In addition to exponential growths in the demand for food assistance, for instance, he anticipates that organizations like the United Way are about to see troubling spikes in the number of families who will need help with rent or mortgage this winter, or who may face evictions as the moratoriums expire.

“Especially for low-income families,” he said. “People who lost their jobs ... those rent bills are coming due now. What resources do they have at year’s end and the beginning of the next?”

Concerns over child care, including the cost of care, continue to be a strain for families across the economic spectrum. Arthur notes that even as the pandemic has left few families untouched, organizations continue to work to meet the needs of people facing domestic violence or other crisis situations, as well as behavioral health issues.

“When people give, when they do drop something in the red kettle, the Salvation Army doesn’t just provide food but a multitude of other services, from transition housing to hospice support,” Arthur said. “I don’t want to minimize the impact of COVID, but we can’t ignore those areas. They are struggling. I ask of people who have the ability to be as generous as normally they are. They may have already helped the COVID effort but if they have the ability, I ask them to be as generous as normally they are or we are going to see other issues increase if we can’t help how we normally help.”

Nicolette, of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, suggests that people “go deep.”

“The Salvation Army kettle-giving still amounts to a lot every year in the millions,” she said. “I can’t say it’s not helpful or strategic, but what we say to the donor is to identify an area they want to give and go deep instead of spreading it out. That relationship with the non-profits makes a big difference.”


TO HELP: Just about every charitable organization has a website that provides information on ways to give. Here are just a few:


Original Source: Lancasteronline.com

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