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Demand for Holiday Aid Rises; Recession Turns Donors into Receivers

November 26, 1991

Undated (AP) _ The economic slump has charities struggling to cope with increased numbers of people seeking aid this Thanksgiving, including a ″new class of poor″ who were the donors of past years, officials say.

A Connecticut church group is turning people away in what its director calls ″the most heart-wrenching decision I’ve ever had to make.″

In Michigan, which abolished welfare for 83,000 adults last month, a soup kitchen is facing ″astronomical″ demand.

In Burlington, Vt., the emergency food service is trying to serve up to 20 percent more people with only a tiny increase in donations.

″Don’t tell me that the recession is over,″ said Ruth Shecter, executive director of the Housing Information Center in Kansas City, Mo. ″President Bush needs to walk with the people and find out what it really means.″

Capt. Phil Murphy of the Salvation Army in Raleigh, N.C., said donations to his unit are off $18,000 from last year for the Christmas and winter relief drives, but the number of people seeking help has been rising.

″There are more people living from paycheck to paycheck than ever before,″ he said. ″This is a whole different strata of people, and it’s going to happen for some time.″

In Bridgeport, Conn., hard-hit by economic troubles, a coalition of churches known as Area Congregations Together, or ACT, is turning away about 100 families who sought Thanksgiving food, out of about 250 who applied.

″It’s unbelievable, it’s tragic, it’s the most heart-wrenching decision I’ve ever had to make,″ said executive director Kathleen Samela.

Donations to fund the holiday meal program are down so sharply that ″we don’t know if we can feed the families we’ve accepted, never mind the ones we’ve had to turn away,″ Samela said.

″In our annual mailing asking for donations, we’ve received a lot of letters from people who have been big donors in the past saying ’I just lost my job. Here’s $2,‴ she said. ″These are people who might have given $10, $25 or more last year.″

Kay Wallick, executive director of the Mid-America Assistance Coalition in Kansas City, Mo., described the ranks of new applicants for aid ″a new class of poor, new clientele who have never used assistance before. These are people who used to give to the United Way.″

Bill Thompson, 47, has been living at the Open Shelter in Columbus, Ohio, since July when he lost his job at a racetrack. Though he found work at a local paper company this month, he still will be spending his first Thanksgiving at a shelter.

″It’ll be something new for me. I have to put up with what I can do,″ said Thompson.

In Jackson, Miss., Cassandra Crump, a 21-year-old mother of five, was one of 50 people who lined up last week at the Community Stewpot, waiting to be screened by volunteers to determine if they were eligible for aid.

″You try to get a job and they just holler at you to come back,″ said Crump.

Several charity administrators said the people seeking aid are getting younger.

″The age level is much, much lower than what it’s traditionally been in years gone by,″ said the Rev. Waymon Pritchard of the Raleigh (N.C.) Rescue Mission. ″And then the drug culture has had a lot to do with it.″

A study released Sunday by the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy group, said younger workers have borne the brunt of the recession.

The study concluded that 1 million of the 1.2 million recession-induced job losses have hit workers under age 25. Many workers over 25 lost jobs as well, the study said, but those losses were offset by job gains among other older workers, something that didn’t happen with the younger workers.

Charities in Michigan are struggling under a particular burden this season, because of the sluggish auto economy and the Oct. 1 cutoff of welfare recipients who did not have custody of children and were deemed to be able- bodied.

″The numbers are astronomical,″ said Lewis Hickson, general manager of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit, which feeds 1,000 people a day in its cafeteria and provides food packages for up to 4,000 additional meals a day.

In Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, donations are up 2 percent to 3 percent at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, but demand for aid has grown 15 percent to 20 percent. ″If we don’t see record numbers of giving in December, we’re going to have a real hard time with any kind of a budget this year,″ said its director, Steve Hingtgen.

An elaborate Thanksgiving meal is not just a luxury for the unemployed, he said. ″Culturally their families expect it,″ he said. ″The kids come home from school talking about it, and parents are under a lot of pressure to provide it, even if it breaks the budget.″

Some charities are trying new strategies to boost donations.

In Columbus, Ohio, members of the local letter carriers union collected food during their rounds Oct. 26 for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. The food bank is also relying on surplus military rations left over from the Persian Gulf War.

In Maine, the state’s largest supermarket chain, Hannaford Bros. Co., has begun asking suppliers to donate damaged goods, and the donations go to the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Lewiston.

In suburban Cincinnati, developers of the posh Kenwood Towne Centre mall donated use of a vacant store to the St. John Social Service Agency. Its store, ″The Miracle Center,″ will be open through Dec. 31 to collect food and clothing.

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