- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The sour economy has forced D.C. residents to cut back on holiday giving, and local charities are feeling the pinch.

“As the economy goes down, there are simply more recipients and fewer donors, so we’re definitely concerned,” says David Treadwell, executive director of the Central Union Mission at 1350 R St. NW, which has begun its annual Operation Christmas Miracle to provide Christmas bags for local families.

A tradition since the 1920s, the holiday bags provide a children’s book, an article of clothing and a toy for a child in a low-income family from the D.C. area. Items are requested by the families. The bags cost $100 to $150.

Dolores Bryant, 56, and her two granddaughters, Dolores and Ja’lene, of Southeast, have received the holiday bags for the past two years. Miss Bryant says the bags are a symbol of hope in turbulent economic times.

“For me, it’s great to receive things that we want, we need and we can use, and on top of that, it saves me from paying more bills. It definitely gives us a hope,” she says.

Dolores, 15, and Ja’lene, 10, say they both love the bags. Ja’lene is hoping to get a Baby Alive stroller, while Dolores wants a purple bedspread - or anything in purple.

“A Barney poster would be nice too,” she says.

So far the mission has filled more than 1,000 holiday bags and has received more than $100,000 in donations, but it is still behind its goal of 1,500 bags by Christmas Day.

With roughly three weeks to go, there is concern the group will not be able to keep up with demand. Mr. Treadwell says that so far, the mission has received $50,000 less in donations for the bags than it did last year.

“It’s a significant, sizable drop, but it’s not overwhelming,” Mr. Treadwell says.

“We did not miss our goals last year, nor in years previous; however, the economy throws everything in a different twist,” says David Fouse, a spokesman for the mission.

Other charities are becoming strained as well. The Salvation Army, Capital Area Command, long the centerpiece of Christmas giving in the District, anticipates a 19 percent increase in the number of people needing assistance this holiday season.

However, it also is experiencing a 30 percent decrease in financial donations from the comparable time frame last year, or a $300,000 shortfall. About 80 percent of the group’s funds come in during the eight weeks before Christmas Day.

“We’re getting worried; we’re seeing a vast increase in demand, and we can’t seem to keep up because of the decrease in donations,” says Carla Daniel Turner, a Salvation Army spokeswoman. The group begins its annual Angel Tree program on Wednesday, providing new clothing and toys for children of needy families.

Steve Morris, the area commander, said in a Nov. 11 press release that “our desperation for additional resources reflects the urgent need this holiday season. It’s sad to say there are more and more people in need of help.”

Some D.C. charities, however, have not seen all doom and gloom from the economic downturn. Bread for the City, the area’s largest food pantry, is in the midst of a very successful Holiday Helpings drive, which provides free holiday meals to low-income residents. So far this year, the group has given out more than 12,000 holiday meals - 1,200 more than anticipated.

“We are having an excellent year, and donations are still coming in. We are confident that the generosity of our new and continued supporters will see us through,” says Valentine Breitbarth, a Bread for the City spokeswoman. At $28 per meal, the group has raised more than $336,000 for the Holiday Helpings program.

Mr. Treadwell says that even in tough economic times, it is not uncommon for charities to see more revenue.

“People become more aware that others are hurting, so those that can, share with those that need,” he says.

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