Monday, January 24, 2011

Feeding the Need

Last week the national office of The Salvation Army released a survey of our food programs across the United States.  The 2011 Feeding the Need report contains info from more than 30 of our feeding programs, large and small, across the country.  I read the report and instantly emailed the Center of Hope Director to find out how our needs in Tulsa compared to the national report.  The answer? We are doing better, but not that much better.

If you want to read the full report you can do that here.

First, the recession officially ended in June 2009.  If you feel like that was the month that things got better for you and your family, please comment below and count your blessings.  To the rest of us, that date probably doesn’t mean much.  I was laid off in July 2009 from a previously thriving non-profit, so the June date holds irony for me. The impact of this recession is still being felt by many in our country.  Salvation Army food programs nationwide have seen an increase in new clients, ranging from middle-class families to the working poor, in addition to younger generations looking for work.

This wave of younger people and families looking for help has been noticed locally.  At the Center of Hope, our shelter in Tulsa, the number of families checking in each day has been unusually high.  The family sleeping quarters at the shelter are always full with many families having to separate into men’s and women’s dorms due to the lack of family spaces available.  Last year at our shelter we had an average of 276 visitors staying in our shelter each night.  This means that we had 100,847 overnight stays last year.  This equals a 6 percent increase over 2009 and a 42 percent increase since 2006.

The increase in those seeking shelter has resulted in an increase in food needs as well over the past few years.  Last year the Center of Hope served 297,316 meals.  That is about 825 meals per day.  In 2006 we were serving an average of 555 meals per day.  This represents an increase of 49 percent for our food programs.  This number astounds me because overall financial support has decreased not just in Tulsa, but across the country.

In 2010, nearly 60 percent of Salvation Army programs saw donations remain flat or decline from all funding sources, including government, public and private sources.  Our 2010 fiscal year isn’t complete in Tulsa, but our funding streams are not increasing at the same level as the need for services.  Kettle money was up at Christmas, so was the Neediest Families drive; however the amount of donations we receive in the mail was stagnant compared to previous years.

One thing I have noticed is the type of volunteers we are getting has changed.  Nationwide, 23 percent of programs reported that volunteering rates increased in 2010, a sign that many Americans are beginning to donate time and talent instead of money.  To me, this has translated into seeing older, professional volunteers giving more of their time in our offices.  Over the last few months, we had one volunteer with a Masters degree who was unemployed work 40 hours a week for us. Amazing.

My summary of the report and our local perspective is this: it isn’t really getting better yet but I am very proud of all that The Salvation Army is doing nationwide to help.  Although funding overall to The Salvation Amy was down 8.4 percent in 2009, our programs and services continue to respond to the need without decreasing quality or quantity.  National Commissioner William Roberts noted in the report that nationally we served 64 million meals to the needy last year and we will continue to do so, even if it means going beyond our limits.  That is the Doing the Most Good attitude we are so proud of at The Salvation Army!


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