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Donations Off Sharply This Holiday Season, Agencies Say : Charity: The decline threatens to cut or cancel social service programs at Salvation Army. The economy is blamed.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The familiar jingle rings loudly in the ears of passersby, but local Salvation Army officials say fewer people are dropping fewer dollars into the shiny red kettles this year than in past holiday seasons.

Donations to the charitable agency have plummeted 20% or more in Ventura County this year, threatening to cancel or scale back some of the social service programs on which the disadvantaged rely.

One Salvation Army leader said that no matter how much money is raised this final week, he worries for those in need during the blustery winter months ahead.

“The people who have applied to us for help at Christmas will be helped, but what will really be hurt is the winter relief programs,” said Maj. Eddie Patterson, who heads the Ventura office of the Salvation Army. The Ventura branch administers an annual budget of about $165,000.

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“They just won’t get as much because income is down,” he said.

There is little doubt in Patterson’s mind about why the Salvation Army is struggling this year.

“It’s more or less the economy,” he said. “Everybody’s hurting. There are people out there who have always had jobs and now they’ve been laid off.”

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Sherryle Morasky of the Oxnard office of the Salvation Army said she has already dipped into her post-holiday budget to pay for this season’s Christmas programs.

“If we don’t make up that money that we’ve had to use, we will have to start cutting our social services beginning in January,” said Morasky, who oversees a budget of about $315,000. “This is one of the lowest years I’ve ever seen in help.”

Those services include emergency shelter, food baskets, and rent and utility subsidies.

Cathy Ramsdale, who heads a Salvation Army office in Simi Valley that serves the entire county except for Oxnard and Ventura, estimated that receipts there are down at least 15% from last year. The branch’s yearly budget is about $139,000, she said.

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“We’re just hoping that the public, at the very end, will really help us,” she said. “But a lot of people figure they have already given for the (recent) disasters and have maybe been a little slow in giving for Christmas.”

The Salvation Army is not the only Ventura County agency with dwindling donations this holiday season. United Way, American Red Cross, Food Share and Toys for Tots have all reported tough times generating gifts.

“We’re doing well, but we can’t get around the fact that there are truly fewer workers than there were at this time last year,” said Marti Kessler, campaign director of United Way of Ventura County.

Kessler said donations to United Way have decreased sharply among federal workers, with giving down nearly $200,000 at the three Ventura County military bases.

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Fortunately for Kessler, private firms are digging deeper this year. Amgen, for instance, has pledged a dollar-for-dollar match of donations made by its employees, she said.

“I don’t know if in the bottom line we will benefit as much as we’d hoped, but it tells me the United Way is still strong in the community,” Kessler said.

Brian Bolton of the local American Red Cross said he budgeted for a difficult year but received unexpected support after the firestorms that struck Ventura County recently.

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“People see us at work and recognize the importance of our service,” he said.

Despite the donations that piled up during the fires, Bolton said his agency is only slightly ahead of last year. Like his counterparts at other nonprofit agencies, he is counting on a surge in donations the final week before Christmas.

“The holiday season is critical to our services,” Bolton said. “That’s the time we receive most of our funding, and hopefully it carries us to the end of the fiscal year.”


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