The man hadn't eaten for two days and had no money. Now, as he ate a sandwich and drank milk on a Sunday afternoon in December, he explained that life had been very difficult since his mom died. She'd always helped him. Now he was homeless, unless a tent in the Windsor woods can be called "home." When the tent was damaged by fire and the weather turned cold, he knew he needed food and shelter. He found it.
A woman entered a Manchester store hoping to find exactly the right outfit for her mother. She searched all the racks. Finally, she found the perfect outfit, a pink dress. She didn't have much money, but the price, $8, was also perfect. The clerk asked if the dress was for a special occasion. The woman started to cry. Her mother had died two days earlier. "I needed clothing that would make her look beautiful at her funeral," she said.
A single mother and her six children sit down with friends in Enfield to enjoy a good meal. The woman looks around and knows her children are safe. Everyone is treated with love, respect and dignity. Meeting these friends has opened up new opportunities for this mom. She can depend on them for support as she struggles alone to raise her family. In fact, she says, her friends are responsible "for the survival of our family."
Welcome to the work of nonprofits. The hungry man found food at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford. The thrift shop is run by MACC Charities in Manchester. The single mother found friends at Enfield Loaves and Fishes.
The critical services provided by these and other nonprofits are increasingly in demand. More people are in need, many for the first time in their lives. And nonprofits are struggling to keep up. With flat or declining revenues, it requires significant cost-cutting. Some programs are being eliminated.
Oak Hill (formerly the Connecticut Institute for the Blind) closed its Hartford Artisans Center in September. For 13 years the center provided people older than 55 and those with disabilities an opportunity to create beautiful woven and sewn goods, to form social networks, and to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. But the program ran a $335,300 deficit the past three years, and attempts to find a new home were unsuccessful.
"We are facing extraordinarily difficult times," said Oak Hill president Patrick J. Johnson. "This year, there was zero percent increase in funding from the state for our community-based programs."
To help Greater Hartford nonprofits meet the increasing demand, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving recently awarded nearly $1 million in grants to combat hunger and homelessness. This is more than double the amount awarded last winter.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors over the past 82 years, as well as our long-term approach to investments and spending, we will remain a constant source of support for nonprofits in good times and bad, in perpetuity.
We expect to grant a similar amount this year and next as we did last year (which was $26 million).
However, even our resources will not be enough to enable nonprofits to meet the challenges ahead. State budget deficits and expected declines in corporate and individual donations are cause for concern.
New Englanders are extremely generous, especially in times of great need. We offer five suggestions for direct aid to nonprofits during this crisis:
•Focus on immediate needs. Even if you donate less this year, give to organizations that help those most affected by the economic crisis — that provide food, shelter and health care.
•Give more strategically. Consider larger gifts to fewer organizations you care about to have a greater effect.
•Turn holiday gifts into charitable donations. Donations can be made in the name of the person who would have received a traditional gift.
•Remember arts and cultural organizations. They contribute significantly to the vitality and quality of life of our community.
•Volunteer. Think of it as sharing time and talents in addition to treasures.
We are in the midst of the holiday season, but this is not a holiday appeal. The need will remain and increase well into the new year, and perhaps beyond.
• Linda J. Kelly is president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which serves the 29-town Greater Hartford region.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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