Assistance Needed

Local social-service agencies are seeing more people seeking help as fewer donations come in

Bill Carnegie said he has only seen a run on emergency services like Tucson's Community Food Bank is seeing this season once before.

"I volunteered for a month after Katrina hit in Baton Rouge, La., and (it was) basically emergency mode," said Carnegie, the Food Bank's CEO. "... We're almost at that level here."

The Community Food Bank is seeing a dramatic increase in the demand for food due to the tanking economy. This year, the Food Bank has passed out about 18,000 food boxes to people in need, up 46 percent from this time last year, said Jack Parris, the media relations liaison for the Food Bank.

"The economy is really hurting people in Pima County," Parris said. "It's because of gas prices and food prices; some people have been laid off; some people work on commission and are not making commissions like they were."

Resources at the Food Bank are being stretched thin. Monetary and food donations have not kept up with demand, and the shelves are a little bare in the industrial warehouse where the Food Bank keeps its food.

The Community Food Bank is not alone. Nonprofit social-service organizations around Tucson are seeing a dramatic spike in demand, along with a decrease in donations and funding.

The Primavera Foundation, which provides programs for low-income households and the homeless, is seeing more people coming through its doors--particularly people who have lost their homes or jobs. Primavera is averaging 200 calls a week for people who need immediate services, said marketing coordinator Renee Bibby.

"They've never been homeless before, and this is the first time they've ever found themselves in that situation," Bibby said of many of the people coming to Primavera. "The social-service agencies are just strapped trying to support everybody."

Primavera turned away 749 men from their men's shelter this past quarter, Bibby said. Last year, nobody was turned away.

"It's hard for us, because you have an individual person standing at your doorway saying, 'I need help,' and you say, 'We can give you a sack lunch, and we can give you a blanket, but we can't help you,'" Bibby said. "That's hard to look someone in the face and say that."

The workers' program, which sends people on day labor, is also turning away people.

At Casa de los Niños, which provides services for children, programs are approaching capacity, said executive director Susie Huhn.

On Oct. 30, the children's shelter housed 44 children, Huhn said. At this time last year, the shelter was averaging 20 to 30 children.

Children are coming to the shelter because their families are newly homeless, or crises at home are being aggravated by economic pressures, Huhn said. The shelter ensures the children are safe and cared for while the families work through their issues.

"It's really hard to parent well when you can't have a roof over your head and you can't provide basic needs," Huhn said. "It's not that they're bad parents; it's just that they're struggling at this point in time, and they need help."

While the need for services is up, money from city and state sources has been cut. The city of Tucson decreased funding to nonprofits across the board, and nonprofits are not optimistic about state funding as the budget deficit approaches $1 billion.

Private donations from individuals and corporations have varied from charity to charity. At the Food Bank, private monetary donations are up slightly; however, food donations are down, Carnegie said, which means the Food Bank must purchase more food.

Primavera has more private funding this year after their 25th anniversary gala, Bibby said--but that was a one-time event. This holiday season, Primavera is casting a wider net for donations by soliciting more people.

Casa de los Niños had fewer ticket sales for its annual car raffle. While the number of donors has remained steady, the amount each donor is giving has not.

"I think we already started to see some of the community's behavior change somewhat in those areas," Huhn said. "We sure hope that we won't see a huge downturn, because our needs are greater than ever."

Organizations are also retooling their services. Primavera is asking for blankets and monetary donations from individuals so that when people are turned away from shelters, they can still have some food and warmth, Bibby said.

Casa de los Niños is moving their infant mental-health clinic to increase capacity, Huhn said.

Starting Dec. 1, the Community Food Bank will limit the number of food boxes families can get to one per month, Carnegie said. Also, holiday food boxes will not be offered this year.

Many social-service organizations are bracing for increased need through the next two years, and doing what they can to weather the storm.

"It's difficult to grow your nonprofit to meet an immediate crisis," Primavera's Bibby said. "A lot of it is Band-Aid solutions. The big solution for this whole thing is an economic turnaround."

At his desk at the Food Bank, Carnegie's eyes grow wide when asked about what the organization is going to do after the holidays and into next year, if giving to charitable organizations continues to decline.

"Right now, we're focusing on what's happening today and this week," Carnegie said.

How to Help

Community Food Bank -- Food donations can be made at several locations throughout Tucson. To find the nearest drop-off point or to make a monetary donation, visit the Food Bank Web site, or call 622-0525.

Casa de los Niños -- Casa de los Niños' holiday wish list of in-kind donations is online. To make a monetary donation, visit the Casa Web site, or call 624-5600. Casa de los Niños also operates a thrift store at 1302 E. Prince Road. Donations are accepted, and proceeds benefit the organization.

Primavera Foundation -- Primavera accepts in-kind donations at 702 S. Sixth Ave. Blankets are needed for the coming winter. To make a monetary donation, visit the Primavera Web site, or call 623-5111.