A Disturbing Trend: Givers Grow Fewer : As Hard Times Hang On, Charities Find It More Difficult to Find Money, Volunteers

It is still easy to find examples of giving in Orange County. People go forth from church and temple with food for the less fortunate; men and women write checks to help homeless shelters; volunteers deliver meals to shut-ins. But most charitable agencies in the county are telling a disquieting tale: Contributions are dropping as the need is increasing.

Unfortunately, the trend is not new. Last year was a tough one for charities. For many, this year is even worse. An official with a church group said the donors who chipped in $10 or $20 in years past are still giving that much, if they still have jobs. But the bigger checks are shrinking or disappearing, and those are the ones that bailed out organizations that otherwise would have ended the year with a deficit.

Too many corporations that once could be counted on to help out with money and volunteer workers have left the county, or merged with other companies, or laid off staff, or gone bankrupt. The employees who worked for those corporations are in no position to give either.

The United Way of Orange County has just opened its annual drive, a harbinger of the end-of-year "charity season" that brings bell-ringers in malls and pleas from pulpits. Last year the United Way secured pledges of just over $18 million, a 10% cut from 1991. That has forced the group to cut back on the money it funnels to over 100 charities in the county. Officials of the group are repeating the lament of last year, that people who used to contribute now need help themselves.

The group has produced some disturbing statistics compared to United Way organizations in other counties. Last year in Orange County its donations worked out to $7.60 per person; in San Diego, the figure was $10.54; in Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, it was $15.40.

Nor are those figures counterbalanced by volunteerism. Earlier this year the Volunteer Center of Greater Orange County reported that only 29% of the county's adults volunteer time to support a cause. The national average is 54%, nearly twice as high.

There are pockets of light in the gloom. Donors support drama, music and art groups that provide necessary nourishment for the soul.

But what is most needed now is help for the body--time and money from those who can give. From homeless women to battered children, from seniors needing meals to infants needing clothes, hundreds of thousands of people in this affluent county need help. We must give them that help.

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