- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Thousands of layoffs from the oil industry’s slide have taken a toll on donations in western North Dakota’s oil patch, just as charities say their need is increasing.

Donations to the Salvation Army were down by more than 60 percent in Williston, in the heart of oil country, as of mid-December. And energy companies that used to write hefty checks to all kinds of charities are cutting back, an industry group acknowledged.

“Just because oil has slowed down doesn’t mean we have slowed down,” said Capt. Joshua Stansbury with the Salvation Army in Williston. “Due to the uncertainty of the economy, those that were giving to us either can’t or they are giving less.”

Donations to the Salvation Army stay in the state, and go toward meals and shelter to Christmas toys for children. The charity is seeing an uptick in requests for help, from voucher for bus tickets to leave the state to help with rent payments, Stansbury said.

Gasoline vouchers are especially in demand, as many people are still living in their vehicles and need to keep them continually running to ward off dangerous winter temperatures, Stansbury said.

North Dakota energy companies are cutting back as crude oil has plunged to lows not seen in years. North Dakota, the nation’s No. 2 producer behind Texas, had just 64 rigs working late this week, down about two-thirds from a year ago. Tessa Sandstrom, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents more than 500 companies working in the oil patch, estimates 15,000 to 20,000 workers have been laid off.

Besides laying off workers, those companies are doing some philanthropic belt-tightening.

One energy company that in the past gave $15,000 at least twice yearly to the Salvation Army has drastically cut its donations, Stansbury said. One local woman who reaped the benefits of having oil drilling on her land typically has given two $10,000 donations annually to the organization, but she too has cut those considerably, he said.

“She’s giving what she can,” Stansbury said. “She doesn’t know what the economy is going to do. There are a lot of people trying to hold on.”

While some companies continue donating cash for some causes and projects, including $13 million this year to North Dakota schools for science and math programs, others are turning to such things coat, food and blood drives to give back to communities, Sandstrom said.

“A lot more emphasis is on volunteering now,” she said.

Many people are in the holiday giving spirit in the oil patch, despite the drop-off in activity, said Julia Kourajian Bush, who works at the Family Crisis shelter in Williston, which serves victims of domestic abuse.

“People are getting laid off, we all know that, and companies are cutting back on budgets,” she said. “They are still helping us, but some maybe not at the same level.”

One company recently donated $1,000 in products ranging from canned goods to paper towels. Another this week dropped off “a beautiful Christmas tree that was all decorated,” she said.

The shelter uses donations to help anyone in need.

“When somebody stops by, we don’t ever turn them down,” Bush said. “We’ll give them blankets, food, clothes, a couple of bucks, or whatever we can.”

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