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Agencies in Need Turn Away Poor : Economy: With donations declining and more people out of work, some service groups are unable to fill requests for gifts and food during the holidays.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faced with a gloomy economy and declining donations, some Ventura County charities are turning away the poor who depend on canned goods and donated gifts for their holiday cheer, organizers said.

“Donations are down quite a bit,” said Ramona Golson, executive director of the Fillmore Voluntary Services. The food bank had to turn away 83 families that asked for Christmas food baskets.

Requests for help have risen about 30% this year over last year, but donations are down by about 62%, Golson said. The organization feeds the hungry year-round.

Donations to the Salvation Army in Ventura are about the same as last year, but “asking is way up,” Maj. Eddie Patterson said. The number of food baskets sent to needy families has risen 20% over last year.

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Food Share Inc., a private nonprofit food bank in Oxnard, is supplying food to a record number of service agencies throughout the county, spokeswoman Susan Hixon said.

The food bank serves about 247 service agencies, 67 more than last year, due to countywide growth and the usual holiday demand, Hixon said.

Unlike other pinched nonprofit organizations, the food bank has received about 2 million more pounds of food this year, mostly rations produced for Persian Gulf War soldiers, Hixon said.

“That’s one particular resource that has boosted our numbers,” she said. The organization has received about 20 truckloads of food from the military, or about 800,000 pounds of food, since August, Hixon said.

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Donations to the Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots drive were running short early in the week, but “the last two days have been absolutely phenomenal,” Capt. Richard Johnson said Friday.

The Marine Corps received 15,000 toys, 75% of its goal of 20,000, Johnson said. “If we have a good weekend, we’re going to make it,” he added.

United Way, which hopes to raise $6.6 million by March, had raised about $4.2 million as of Friday.

“We still have a lot more money to raise for the goal, but we hope people continue to be generous,” Executive Director Colleen M. Hunter said.

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And the American Red Cross of Ventura County, which once offered baby-sitter training and health courses, now teaches only emergency preparedness, water safety, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid. Even those programs are provided “on demand and only as needed,” director Brian Bolton said.

Many former donors are now finding themselves in need, charity representatives said.

“A lot of people who had jobs now need help,” Patterson said.

Layoffs and last year’s cold snap that destroyed crops also have increased the number of needy people at Fillmore Voluntary Services, Golson said. “It’s made a big impact on our families,” she said.

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At the Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, the Rev. Frank de la Vega said many families who asked for help last year need assistance again. The church helps 30 to 40 needy families a month and will help about 60 families during the holiday.

Recession-weary shoppers are rediscovering the Goodwill Store, which raises money by selling used clothing and household items, Assistant Manager Michael Archibald said. “The middle-class people are starting to realize they can get really nice stuff (at Goodwill). It’s not junk that people are throwing out,” Archibald said.

But even the affluent shoppers aren’t purchasing many items, he said. “We’re seeing customers coming in, but they’re buying real cheap stuff,” Archibald said. “They weren’t real choosy about the price before. They’re pinching pennies now.”

At the YMCA of Simi Valley, donations have remained relatively steady but the staff had to work harder to get them.

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“It’s definitely been a hard year,” program director Andy Dominguez said.

Last year, the nonprofit organization raised $85,000. Surpassing that mark this year will be difficult, Dominguez said.

“People are watching more carefully about what they’re giving,” he said.

Charitable Organizations Donations are falling short as cries for help increase throughout the county, local charity organizers said. Gifts may be sent to the following organizations: YMCA of Simi Valley, 4680 Los Angeles Ave., Unit E, Simi Valley 93063. For information, call 583-5338.

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Fillmore Voluntary Services, 455 Sespe Ave., Fillmore 93015. Food, clothing and money are needed. For information, call 524-2488.

United Way, 1339 Del Norte Road, Camarillo 93010. For information, call 485-6288.

Marine Corps Toys for Tots drive offers more than 200 drop-off boxes around the county for donations at all branches of Bank of America and the Bank of A. Levy and at all fire stations. For information, call the Marine Corps Reserve Training Center at 982-4345.

Salvation Army of Ventura, 155 S. Oak, P.O. Box 789, Ventura 93002. For information, call 648-5031.

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Salvation Army of Oxnard, 138 W. Hill St., P.O. Box 541, Oxnard 93032. For information, call 483-9235.


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