'Safety Net' Nonprofits Seek Donors

California foundation leaders called for help Tuesday for a growing number of victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy: nonprofit groups that are losing donations as they face increasing pressure to provide food and medical care to those who have lost their jobs.

A survey of 413 nonprofit providers of "safety net" services to low-income Californians showed a $25-million drop in donations--a figure representing a small portion of the money lost by the state's safety net nonprofits.

The survey said the average amount lost by each group is $62,000--meaning the total of funding lost by the state's 3,939 safety net nonprofits might be close to $300 million.

The survey, prepared by the California Endowment, estimated that as the economy slows, an additional 750,000 Californians--maybe as many as 1.1 million--may need assistance for basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter.

Such demands come as the nonprofits providing the help are getting fewer donations from businesses and individuals, experts said.

"We're trying to let people know Californians are hurting now and need your help," said Robert K. Ross, president of the California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation.

"The events of Sept. 11 demonstrated how Americans can respond to a crisis," Ross said. "We're facing a less dramatic crisis, and we're hoping that Californians and Americans will respond. We're asking citizens and corporate leaders to dig, and dig deep, to give now."

President Bush, speaking Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Orlando, Fla., made a similar appeal to the country.

"I'm worried about the fact that charitable giving in America has dropped off as a result of 9-11," Bush said. He added: "There are still people in America who hurt. They were hurting before Sept. 11th. They hurt today."

Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, more than 100,000 Californians have lost their jobs as the already slowing economy stumbled over a downturn in tourism that caused many cancellations of flights and hotel reservations. Nationwide, a half-million people have lost jobs since the attacks, according to figures presented at Tuesday's news conference.

At the same time, the economic slowdown has eaten away at the stock portfolios of charitable foundations, leaving some with less money to give away.

The California Endowment, a $3-billion foundation, lost a half-billion dollars in value this year because of the declining stock market, Ross said. But the endowment, like many other foundations, profited tremendously for years from the bull market, so it has opted to give more, not less, in response to the crisis, he said.

"We're hoping corporate America will do the same," Ross said.

In California, more than half of all charitable organizations reported an increase in demand for their services, according to the survey. Demand for food bank and meal services has risen 40%.

The demand for emergency housing has jumped 20%, and the need for mental health care and primary medical care has increased 19%, the survey found.

At the same time, funding has decreased for the safety net nonprofits surveyed. Nearly 40% of them reported a decrease in funding from corporate donors and giving programs. About 30% saw a decrease in giving from foundations, individual donors, and fees received for services.

The loss of the money comes at a crucial time for charities, which typically make their budgets with end-of-the-year fund-raising.

In the season when donors usually troll for tax deductions, charities such as the Midnight Mission in Los Angeles still hope for good results from end-of-the-year appeals. The mission, which provides food, shelter and substance abuse programs on a budget of about $4 million, has seen a 10% decline in donations.

Said development director Carrie Gatlin: "We are appealing to our donors to remember . . . that the homeless and low-income population that we serve are still here."

Of the charities surveyed in the new report, nearly a quarter of the nonprofits have reduced staff or plan to do so.

"December is a live-or-die month for many of these organizations," said Joe Haggerty, president of United Way of Greater Los Angeles. "These are the kinds of organizations that, if any one of us went to our desks and found a pink slip, we would need to turn to them."

That's what happened to Armando Becerra. Becerra, who attended the Tuesday announcement, was a cook at the Hilton Burbank Airport on Sept. 11. By Sept. 14, he was out of a job because of a landslide in cancellations.

Not long after, he lost his second job--he worked 14 hours a day to support his wife and two little children--at a restaurant in Universal City.

"My life changed 180 degrees," Becerra said.

His eyes filled with tears as he recalled trying to find another job, then seeking help at a food bank. Becerra finally found a $10-an-hour job as a cook at a nonprofit children's program run by Voluntarios de America.

Robert Jones is still in the lurch. Until recently, he supported a 14-year-old son and 81-year-old disabled mother on his $12.78-an-hour job loading and unloading planes for United Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport. He was laid off two months ago.

Jones must move his family from their West Los Angeles apartment by the end of the year--and they can't find another place they can afford. He has had a successful interview with another airline for a $10-an-hour job loading planes, but background checks take at least three weeks with newly tightened security procedures.

Food banks are his family's safety net.

"It's the worst time in my life," Jones told reporters. "I really love working at the airport. It's tough to have to ask for help."

The news conference was held to announce a campaign, called California Cares, to encourage year-end charity donations.

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Times staff writer Myron Levin contributed to this report.