Charities need more, getting less

PASADENA, Calif. The shaky economy has been hitting quite a few Americans pretty hard. For the Salvation Army, though, it's been a boost in sales at stores. More and more people are skipping the shopping mall and they're hitting thrift stores, looking for bargains. Nationwide, sales are up at thrift stores by as much as 15 percent. But the downside is, for the Salvation Army and other charities, donations are down.

When times are tough, people turn to charities like the Salvation Army. But in times like these, when foreclosures are skyrocketing; when the stock market is plummeting; fewer people are donating, and more people are looking for help.

"In the advent of the economic crisis, we've seen an increase of 50 percent of our people just coming in and getting food from our food pantry," said Pilar Buelna, The Salvation Army.

At the food pantry in the downtown Salvation Army shelter, the need is obvious. Ordinarily, the pantry is overflowing with food, with little room to walk. Now reserves are down and some shelves are empty.

"We started to get calls from our different social services and the corps for Salvation Army, and they just were running out of food," said Buelna.

To fill the gap, the Salvation Army started a feed-the-family campaign. It has raised $300,000 so far for the L.A. area. But it is far short of its million-dollar goal.

Over at the Project Angel Food kitchen in Hollywood, demand for the charity's fresh-cooked meals is pretty constant, but donations are not.

"We are starting to see a slowing of donations, especially from our smaller gifts," said Margaret Steele, Project Angel Food. "But we nonetheless are remaining optimistic."

Now mix in the other downsides in today's economy. Project Angel Food delivers 1,400 meals each day all throughout L.A. County. So increased fuel prices are hitting the charity hard.

And the cost of the food itself has been rising steadily.

"Over the last two years, rice has increased 146 percent; carrots have increased 34 percent; apples have increased 132 percent," said Steele.

A steep challenge for these groups looking to feed the sick, to help the needy. The way donations are trending, the charities may soon be the ones pleading poverty.

One local charity is bucking the trend. Officials with Goodwill Industries of Southern California said not only are sales at its thrift stores up, but their donations are up by 12 percent over last year. That is a rarity.


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