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Some local charities feel pinch of economic woes

Economic downturn, skyrocketing gas prices, steadily increasing food prices — it’s a rough and tumble world for the average American these days. For charitable organizations in Central Kitsap, it’s been just as bad and some are starting to reel from the effects of a slumping economy.

“I think it’s kind of hard to be a charity at this point,” said Patricia Hennessy, director of resource development for United Way of Kitsap County.

The organization has seen a steady increase in the number of people requiring services and a steady decrease in funds and material goods available during the last year.

Their annual campaign drive, which generally lasts from late summer through the holiday season, brought in about 6 percent less in 2007 than in 2006.

The volume of calls to 2-1-1, United Way’s community help line for Clallam, Kitsap and Jefferson counties, also has increased.

Most telling to Hennessy are trends in food bank patronage.

“We’re seeing more people go to the food bank,” she said. “They really are the indicator species for non-profits.”

And the prognosis from two local food banks isn’t spectacular.

The Central Kitsap Food Bank served 319 households and 993 individuals during March 2007, Director Hoyt Burrows said. Those numbers were up in March 2008 to 400 households and 1,325 people served.

“The housing cost, shelter cost is more expensive, so more people are living in less houses,” Burrows said.

The Bremerton Food Line saw a 15 percent increase in patronage in 2007 and expected another 10 to 12 percent bump this year, Executive Director Monica Bernard said last month.

“I can’t attribute it to anything other than the economy,” she said.

Bremerton’s numbers are only partially telling. It’s not just that more people are coming into the food bank; the type of people patronizing it are changing, as well.

“I can’t tell you how many people come in dressed for work, but come here ... because they can’t make ends meet,” Bernard said. “The demographic is changing for people who need help.”

It’s not a problem unique to Kitsap. An April 21 story in the Seattle Times eyeballed the increase in food prices nationally between 2007 and 2008 and found substantial increases in several staple foods.

Whole wheat bread jumped about a quarter, ground beef was up 16 cents and whole milk leapt 79 cents.

It’s a difference of mere pennies in some cases, but when food banks buy in bulk, the amount grows exponentially.

“The prices that the food banks pay for things that we have to buy are increasing,” Burrows said.

United Way even took some additional hits after the December 2007 floods.

“We saw a real drop off,” Hennessy said. “I think that was the final straw for a lot of folks (who would have donated otherwise).”

Burrows said Silverdale wasn’t too adversely affected by the floods, however, and even managed to help a few people out.

“We had a pretty good donor base for the holidays,” Burrows said. “We did quite a bit for some victims in Mason County.”

The bank helped out “three or four families” who lost their homes and were displaced during the floods, he said.

Still other charities in the area aren’t having any trouble at all.

“We’re bucking the trend, we’re one of the organizations that’s gaining,” said Dave Schertzer, resource director for Children of the Nations International in Silverdale. “We could always use funds. We operate in the mindset that we’re going to do it and we’re going to get the funds.”

For the food banks, however, positive thinking may not be enough.

Burrows and Hennessy both said they’re banking on the upcoming Letter Carriers Food Drive to bring in enough food stuffs to last for the next few months.

“That is really a big one,” Burrows said. “That is a major food drive for all the food banks in Kitsap County.”

Spring and summer tend to be slow times for the banks, which bring in most of their donations during the holiday seasons.

Of course, both said what is always needed are more donations and volunteers.

“Everything that people can do, it’s gonna help — every little bit,” Hennessy said.

And in the meantime?

“We’re just gonna keep doing what we do,” she said.

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