Charities suffer with economy in turmoil

Published 11:47 pm Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Giving has collided head on with a heavy economic slump.

Charitable agencies and non-profit organizations are rising high on the list of those affected by tightening budgets.

This time last year, the United Way of Selma and Dallas County had raised $373,000, within striking distance of its goal of $390,000.

Email newsletter signup

It has raised $313,432 this year with exactly two weeks left in the campaign.

“Probably 75-80 percent of our funds come from payroll deductions,” said Jeff Cothran, United Way executive director. “So when you have layoffs, plant closings, shutdowns and the things that have occurred in this economy, that has a very negative effect on us.”

Individual contributions also have dropped, largely because of the decline in the stock market, Cothran said.

Agencies the United Way contributes to feel the sting.

Maj. Eric Roberts of the Salvation Army said his office is already feeding a $50,000 deficit from the last fiscal year.

“We’re cutting back, and the first place it’s easiest to cut back is in service,” Roberts said. “We’ve cut employees’ salaries, don’t turn the lights on, don’t turn the heat on — everything you can do. I understand the United Way’s situation. They can only raise so much money.”

Selma and Black Belt Regional Abuse (SABRA) Sanctuary provides counseling and legal assistance for victims of abuse in a three-county area. The agency may have to evaluate its services if United Way funding is slashed.

“We’ve already lost $20,000 from some other grants this year,” said Nancy Travis, executive director. “I’ve already had to cut back on personnel, and I may have to cut back on more. That’s what we’re looking at — less people doing lots and lots more work. I know last year (the United Way) did a big push around Christmas time, and they ended up getting the money. We hope that’s going to work again this year.”

The United Way also provides direct services — including medical and prescription drug assistance — and it is the registration center for volunteers in times of disaster.

United Way offices all over the state and country are experiencing the same troubles, Cothran said.

The hardest decision is deciding which agencies to cut funding for and how much.

That may force the United Way to do something it has traditionally not done in its 60-year history in Dallas County.

“We pretty much don’t do special events like golf tournaments and auctions and parties and stuff like that,” Cothran said. “Mainly because we’re a workplace campaign. That’s the United Way tradition. We may have to start doing stuff like that.”