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Local charities weathering economy’s wrath

Submitted by on 1, March 6, 2009 – 9:00 amNo Comment

alameda-food-bankThis economic crisis has been hard on the nation’s non-profits, and our local folks are not immune. Leaders of several local non-profits said they’re working extra hard this year to maintain their cash flow and to serve a growing number of people.

Doug Biggs of the Alameda Point Collaborative, which provides housing for formerly homeless families plus job training and other services, said he’s seeing a downturn in corporate and foundation giving, which represents about 20 percent of his agency’s funding. Foundations who responded to a recent poll by the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that their assets have dropped by a median of 28 percent over 2007 and 2008.

“A number of foundations have stopped giving,” Biggs said. And he said a lot of the corporations the collaborative once relied on for funding have shut down. “We have to provide services no matter what,” Biggs said.

George Philips of the Boys & Girls Club of Alameda, which is in the middle of a $10 million campaign to build a new facility that will serve 3,400 kids, said that 35 percent of his organization’s funding has come from corporations and foundations. (For the new facility campaign, it’s closer to 50 percent.) He said he’s had some success in working with philanthropic organizations to raise money, and is also working on getting multi-year commitments from businesses that can afford to donate.

The club is holding its annual auction fundraiser on Saturday, and Philips said that local businesses have generously donated items for bidding.

The problems are kind of a double-whammy for local charities: They’re seeing some traditional funding streams lag at a time when need is escalating sharply.

Paul Russell of the Alameda Food Bank said the number of households his agency is helping has grown from 528 in January 2007 to 740 this past January – numbers that are driven by an increase in first-time clients.

His agency has also been affected by the crisis another way: Owners of the local gas station that provided his vans with gas were forced to sell the station, Russell said, so the food bank is looking for another station to provide the food bank with the 1,000 gallons of gas it uses each year.

But Russell and the others noted one bright spot: Donations from private individuals are still going strong. (And none of the charities I interviewed said they’ve had to cut services.)

“The citizens of Alameda responded quite generously to our need at the end of last year, and early indications are that they are continuing to help in any way they can,” Russell said. He said he’s seeing an increase in post-holiday food drives – including two children’s birthday parties this month.

Russell said local writer and Alameda Sun editor Julia Park Tracey’s upcoming release party for her new book, “Amaryllis: Collected Poems” will benefit the food bank (and that’s from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 11 at Crosstown Coffeehouse, 1303 High Street, if you’re wondering – bring cans of food).

Biggs said he’s doing house parties to raise funds for the collaborative. If you’re interested in hosting one, you can call him at 898-7849 or e-mail him a dbiggs@apcollaborative.org. The collaborative is also hosting a breakfast in May at the Albert H. DeWitt Officers Club, and we’ll have more on that as the date approaches. There’s no charge, he said, though donations are encouraged.

For more information or to donate to these agencies, simply click the hyperlinked agency names.

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