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Charities Join The Needy

The end-of-year holiday is the season of giving, when we are infused with the spirit of generosity, empathy for those in need and “good will to all” (not to mention a Dec. 31 tax deadline for deductions).

Unfortunately, this year the peak giving season is shorter than usual. The late Thanksgiving holiday truncated the number of fundraising weekends leading up to Christmas. That’s on top of a challenging macro-economic environment, and it is putting the squeeze on charities. Some local fundraisers have quietly indicated that they are worried about meeting year-end objectives.

“Times are tough; people who may have been able to give before can’t now,” says Rev. Rosita Williams, president of the Great Neck Kiwanis. “Even Saturday evenings at Roosevelt Field seems a little slow.”

Of course, with holiday efforts it’s still too early to say for sure—there could be a flurry of donations in the final week. And some organizations say they are on track. Staff Sgt. Kyle Stahlecker, Nassau County coordinator for Toys for Tots, says donations this year are “absolutely on par with last year’s.”

“People in Nassau County are so giving,” he says. “We’re filling up left and right.” Hicks Nurseries, which collects cans of food for LI Cares, says they won’t know for sure until they get a final tally from the charity, but by an eyeball estimate it looks about the same as in past years.

Tom Bruno, Executive Director of the Hicksville Boys and Girls Club, said that the organization has not felt the pinch this year with donations and they are expecting a few to come in by the end of the year.

“We seem to be doing okay this year as far as donations go. We usually have a few that donate every year,” he said.

The Michael Magro Foundation has actually seen an increase in year end donations, which Vice President Terrie Magro credits to communication. They send out an email blast at the end of the year, to remind people that they can still donate and where their money will be going.

“We try to be specific in what we ask, and we see more come back because people have an understanding of what they’re donating to,” says Magro.

Still, for some organizations, preliminary results are troubling. One fundraiser said the first weekend after Thanksgiving yielded donations that were on one day “slightly less” and on the other “significantly less” than the year before. Another volunteer said charity representatives had mentioned that it seems to be a slow year overall.

“It’s been brutal,” says John Theissen, who has run the John Theissen Children’s Foundation for 22 years. “Usually we deliver over 76,000 toys; this year we have half that many, and requests are up.” He said fundraising is down $100,000 compared to last year. “It’s one of the worst years ever,” he says. “I just don’t get it; I don’t get what’s going on.”

The hard times are being felt even by animals. “Adoptions are significantly down because people can’t afford a dog, and surrenders significantly up,” says Bob Sowers, a detective at the SPCA, adding that donations this year have been “a lot less.” “These animals are in desperate need of a home this year.”

Timothy Jaccard, founder of AMT Children of Hope Foundation in Mineola, confirms that AMT has seen a dip in donations, too. “The elections and political arena this year lessened donations,” he says. “A lot of political parties were soliciting for money.”

“It’s down on average compared to the past,” says Bill Moseley, a longtime volunteer fundraiser who sits on the Salvation Army advisory board. “Last year because of Sandy people were a little more willing to part with hard-earned dollars, and the season is shortened—retail is feeling it too.”

Nonprofits are working to counteract this trend. AMT held two extra fundraisers: a walkathon in April and a polka-thon in September. The nonprofit is also hosting holiday raffles and Christmas parties. “We raised $5,000 at the Marriott Hotel last night with a raffle,” Jaccard says. He hopes to raise a total of $50,000 for the Children of Hope Foundation through these efforts.

The Salvation Army is likewise seeking creative new opportunities, such as renting its brass musicians—whether a single trumpeter, horn quartet or the full band—for private events. The quartet played Amityville’s Small Business Saturday event this year. Another effort focuses on college and university students.

A final accounting won’t come through until charities work through their books in January, and we can still hope for angels to appear. Meredith Brosnan, of the North Shore Kiwanis, remembers ringing the bells one year when a man drove up, rolled down his window and asked “Do you take checks?” And when they said yes, he dropped one in the kettle. “When we got back to count it, it was $1,500!” Brosnan recalls. “It was a good day.”

Absent a rash of such liberality, the budget discussions at charity offices in January may center on making do with less. That might include more energetic recruitment of volunteers for the rest of the year.

“Come January 1, we’re open every day. We’re serving the community all year long,” says Major Philip Wittenberg of the Salvation Army’s Hempstead Citadel Corps. “If a volunteer calls, we can always find a useful service for them to do.”

—Colleen Maidhof contributed to this article