Layoffs boost demand as holiday donations lag
On any given day, 100 people seeking food boxes may be lined up in front of the Community Food Bank before it opens its doors.
“It looks like the Great Depression if you took a snapshot of the people standing in those lines,” said Bill Carnegie, the food bank’s president and chief executive officer.
With a U.S. economy fraught with a sagging stock market and waves of layoffs, the needs of social service agencies helping the poor and newly poor have skyrocketed.
But because of the economy, donations are lagging.
This Catch-22 situation has agencies making decisions they never have had to make during the holiday season.
• The Community Food Bank is not giving out any holiday boxes. Last year, it gave out 20,000 of them, at a cost of about $300,000. This year, it will put canned hams, but not turkeys in its regular December food boxes – and no turkeys or hams in its November boxes.
• The Salvation Army is imploring the public for turkeys and precooked, frozen pies for its annual Thanksgiving Day dinner from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road. Counting dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it will serve 7,000 meals.
“We have been getting lots of complaints, both in person and on the phone, from people who are disappointed that there will not be holiday boxes,” Carnegie said. “We are hoping, in addition to hams, that we can put some other holiday items like canned cranberries and canned yams into the December boxes.
“We hope we will get them in the next couple of weeks, but we don’t have them yet. We give out 20,000 boxes a month, so 20,000 cans of anything is hard to come by,” he said.
Carnegie said he regretted not being able to give out holiday food boxes, “but the numbers of needy are going up and I’m sure it’s going to be worse as the holidays get closer. This is the only response we can have.”
He said the food bank provides food for 315 charities, including shelters, pantries and other agencies, “and they wish we had more food. In all, it serves 200,000 people a month.
“We’re already at capacity as to how many food boxes we can make a day and we can’t afford to add a shift or to work on Sunday,” he said.
The new poor
Social service officials are reporting a new phenomenon:
Of the several hundred clients each month seeking help with food, rent or utilities at The Salvation Army, about 50 percent are new.
More and more are working class and middle class, said spokeswoman Tamara McElwee.
That trend holds true at the food bank, too.
Carnegie said it is not unusual to see an engineer in the lines of people waiting for food boxes.
“We’re seeing more people in construction and the home (building) industry needing more help because they have lost their jobs,” McElwee said. “We are seeing a lot more families, those working two jobs and have been laid off, who can’t make their mortgage payments and are losing their cars.”
Carnegie added, “The number of seniors I see astounds me.”
At Child & Family Resources, Inc., which operates a holiday Adopt-a-Family program among its services, Development Director Colleen Bagnall said “People are humble and embarrassed. They say, ‘I used to adopt a family and now I’m on your list.’ It’s humiliating.”
Their wish lists are not extravagant, she said. “They’ll ask for warm clothing for winter. For laundry detergent. A shower curtain. Sheets for the bed, blankets. Gifts for under the tree, like books.
“And they want to volunteer. ‘Can we wrap gifts?’ they say. A woman said, ‘Can I come and clean your building?’ I told her we had a janitorial staff, but she said she and her children could come and clean,” Bagnall said. “I told her, ‘There will be a time someone will need help from you, and I know you’ll do that.’ ”
Carnegie said it’s not surprising to see those who have little giving the most. The majority of people who donate food are ones who receive or have received food in the past. “They understand what it means to be hungry,” he said.
“When the post office has its food drives, the more affluent areas around Tucson give less than the lower income areas. That doesn’t mean the more affluent people don’t care. They just aren’t as close to it,” he said.
“What we find is that people receive help here and then get on their feet and give back through volunteering or donating,” she said.
Faith in Tucsonans
Donations also are a serious concern, the Salvation Army’s McElwee said.
“We are way off at this point in the game, but we have a lot of faith in Tucsonans. They’ve always come through for us.”
As of Monday, they were 50 turkeys and 100 (frozen prebaked) pies short of what they needed.
“There are empty shelves,” McElwee said. “We like to dodge turkeys when we go in to the freezer – a 7-foot-by-10-foot unit – and that isn’t the case this year. It’s kind of scary.
“If we have to make food purchases, it takes away from other programs,” she said. But the dinner will go on as scheduled.
That might not be necessary, if the steady flow of people with donations at the Salvation Army Monday was any indication.
Vicki Meredith said she and another person went to a grocery store that had great sales and nearly filled up her car’s trunk for $50 each.
Sandra Chamberlain brought in five turkeys. “I’m retired. I asked family and friends to (buy them), and told them I’d bring them in, and they all were willing.”
James Cryts, 5, came in with her mom, Stacey Cryts, bringing a turkey and two pies.
He said, “We should give food to people on Thanksgiving. It’s nice to share.”
McElwee said, “At least the holiday dinner relieves stress in one area so people can concentrate on other things they really have to work on.”
She said The Salvation Army toy drive also is important.
“We will make sure they don’t have to worry about putting presents under the tree and can focus on making the mortgage payment and keeping the lights on.”
But things may get very tight, she said.
“In the past, we have given each child two big toys. Maybe this year it will be only one,” she said.
The toys go to children in more than 2,200 families, she said, adding, “We’ll make sure were able to provide them.
“So much of what we do is in faith and lots of our programs are volunteer driven, so we depend on supporters for even more,” she said.
Worse before getting better
Carnegie expects “18 to 24 months of what we have now before things turn around. I’m expecting more layoffs, more businesses closing. Typically, companies that are going to cut back (on expenses or payroll) will do it after the holidays.”
And that’s bad news for the food bank, because “January, February and March are the hardest times to collect money.
“After the holiday, people tend to forget about hunger,” he said.
The hope is that no one – from individuals to state legislators – forgets during these hard times.
“The bottom line is we all have to provide what we can with a shrinking budget,” Child & Family Resources’ Bagnall said.
But, she added, “I hope lawmakers see the value in the resources we provide our families. I hope budgets aren’t balanced on the backs of the needy.”
How to Help
• Salvation Army needs: 50 turkeys, 100 frozen prebaked pies, stuffing mix, instant potatoes, dinner rolls, white bread, oranges and eggs.
If you want to help out for Christmas dinner, the need is 300 turkeys, 200 hams and 300 frozen, prebaked pies along with the other fixings listed above.
Donations may be made at its community center, 1001 N. Richey Blvd., and at the Hospitality House, 1021 N. 11th Ave. Monetary donations may be mailed to the Richey site. For more information, call 795-9671.
• Community Food Bank priority needs: canned meats, canned vegetables, canned soups, cereal, peanut butter, canned fruit, canned tomato products, rice and beans.
Check the Web site: communityfoodbank.com to find the closest location to donate food.
Monetary donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 26727, Tucson, AZ 85726 For more information, call 622-0525.
• Child & Family Resources needs:
Monetary donations may be mailed to Child & Family Resources, Inc., Attention: Fund Development, 2800 E. Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85716.
Donations also can be taken over the phone at 881-8940 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A downloadable donation form is online at www.childfamilyresources.org
Those who would like to adopt a family for the holidays may call 881-8940.