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Charitable donations up, but so is need

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Covenant House has had almost 10,000 more client contacts this year than just two years ago, the organization's executive director said.

In 2010, Covenant House -- a day shelter in Charleston that serves as a safe haven for people dealing with homelessness -- had 30,661 client contacts, compared to 40,000 this year. However, the individual contributions - the number of people who donated money -- have increased 190 percent in just the last year, according to executive director Ellen Allen.

Charitable donations made to some nonprofit organizations in the Kanawha Valley seem to be up this year, but so is the number of people needing assistance, nonprofit officials say.

Donations, especially clothes and food, also are up this year at Covenant House, Allen said.

"Our donations are up quite remarkably from the previous year. The community has responded and we are really blessed," Allen said. "It means that we will be able to buy coats for children and work with utility companies to help somebody pay their bills."

Smaller monetary donations made to Manna Meal increased in 2012, said Jean Simpson, executive director of the soup kitchen that serves two meals a day in downtown Charleston.

"We've ended up with a lot of people sending a small amount - $20, $50, $100 or $10 -- but with that it created quite a bit of money," Simpson said.

And even though Manna Meal is receiving more donations, Simpson said she has seen an increase in the number of people who need a hot meal.

"Normally we have about 130 [people eat] on Christmas Day and this year we had 180, which surprised me," Simpson said. "I didn't see a lot of families, I saw more single men and woman eating. We used to basically just be feeding the street people, now we're feeding low-income service workers."

Admitting that the charity is doing well is something that scares Simpson.

"It's difficult to talk about if I tell the truth," she said. "People will say, 'Well, we don't need to send money. They're OK.'"

Likewise, Allen said, "We don't want people to quit donating but we want to acknowledge their generosity."

While the Charleston community is largely supportive, Covenant House wouldn't get by without the generosity of businesses and churches, Allen said.

About 30 different churches help out by making hygiene bags for homeless people and organizing food drives.

TRG Enterprises hosted a food drive within the company that collected 3,700 pounds of food, Allen said. Another local business, One Stop, hosted a food drive, too, that brought in more than 1,000 pounds of food.

Earlier this year, The Greenbrier resort donated 150 toys to Daymark, an organization that advocates and provides support and shelter for at-risk youth and their families, said Vicki Pleasant, the shelter's executive director.

Pleasant said Daymark, which is on Charleston's East End, sees an increase in donations every year because "when more people learn about programs such as Daymark, they understand the need for young people."

The shelter sees an increase in donated items such as blankets, towels, coats, boots, school supplies, and hygiene items during the holiday season, she said.

"I truly believe that there continues to be a large number of people who are very caring and want to do things that help others," Pleasant said. "While the economy isn't where we'd like it to be, I don't think that stops people in the community from caring about others."

While many local nonprofits are getting what they need to provide for an increase of those who need help, some are struggling to meet the demand.

"People just don't have as much to give," said Tammy Scott, director of development with the Union Mission in Charleston. "They still give, but they don't have as much."

Scott also has noticed that the number of people who need the Union Mission's services has risen in the past year.

"There's definitely more people in need with this economy. A lot of people are coming for the first time," she said.

This year's storms also have strained the Union Mission's budget, Scott noted.

"We've definitely had to make some major changes to tighten the budget."

The Mountain Mission is also struggling for donations, said its executive director John Roberts.

"They're drastically down," Roberts said. "I don't know an exact percentage, but I think I can be fair in saying donations are probably 20 to 25 percent off from what they were last year."

"The needs are outpacing the donations we are getting," said Donna Hawkins, executive director of the Gabriel Project, which provides support to pregnant women and families with infants up to 2 years old.

"We are seeing people coming to us saying that they have never had to ask for help before, so I think the general economic state is creating problems."

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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