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Neediest Caseworkers

City charities are getting a lump of coal in their stockings right when they’re needed most.

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Illustration by Chrissie Abbott  

The economy melted down just as charities entered their biggest donation period of the year, when individuals and corporations are motivated to give by holiday goodwill—and a December 31 tax-deduction deadline. God’s Love We Deliver counts on December donations to make up 22 percent of its overall dollars; Housing Works, for 25 percent. “We have a special staff that stays here until midnight on New Year’s Eve to accept donations,” says amfar spokesman Joshua Lamont.

But this year’s holiday donation season has been much stingier. “We’ve been hit hard,” says City Harvest executive director Jilly Stephens, whose organization typically takes in $5.7 million, about 40 percent of annual donations, from November to January. The end of the year “is going to be a nail-biter,” she says. The Children’s Aid Society, which usually receives $6 to $7 million from November to February, has seen its numbers down about 33 percent since November. “How are we doing?” asks CEO C. Warren Moses. “Terrible.” At the American Red Cross in Greater New York, this month’s donations are shaping up to be 20 percent lower than usual. Many groups are calling their major donors, asking for more. “Our board members, like Kenneth Cole, are getting their hands dirtier,” trying to get more money out of people, amfar’s Lamont says.

This is happening against a backdrop of cash-strapped government. “If public funding gets cut back, it’s not like we can then turn to the private side to make up for it this year,” says Red Cross CEO Terry Bischoff. So her group is trying to save money—10 percent of payroll went in November, and they’re scrutinizing things like fund-raising galas. “We joked about serving heater meals at our annual dinner in June,” Bischoff says, referring to prepackaged meals intended for disaster victims. “Maybe we could save a few dollars.”

More people need help during bad times. God’s Love We Deliver decreased its 2009 budget by 5 percent even while handling 20 percent more clients this holiday season than last. “We’re serving more and more people with fewer resources,” says president Karen Pearl. She’s hoping to draw on a larger volunteer base to make up for losses. “We’re seeing more volunteers in people who may have lost their jobs,” says Pearl. “It gives them a sense of community.”

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