In southern Louisiana while repeated hurricanes and a major oil spill impacted the local economy, more than 30,000 people still supported Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana

According to President and CEO Natalie Jayroe, cash donations have not been down. 

At Catholic Charities of West Virginia, donations have been consistent for the past two years. In fact, there was an increase in the number of donors even though, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2009, the majority of counties are ranked impoverished, some as high as 60 percent. 

And at the National Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis, National Executive Director Roger Playwin reported only a 1 percent decline in donations when the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University lists the national average at 3.6 percent. 

Caring for neighbors 

What’s going on, that Catholics are stepping up to the donations plate even when they are feeling their own crunch?  

“We have excellent donors throughout the state,” said Patti Tiu, director of development for Catholic Charities of West Virginia. “They are hardy folks and really care about each other and want to sustain their neighbors. Our communities get together to face our challenges, and our friends, neighbors and parishioners really step up.”  

Jayroe sees the same spirit in the people of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, who support Second Harvest with food drives and direct-mail campaigns. Other Christian groups also are involved.  

“The Church definitely creates awareness of what we do,” she said. “Then, after the hurricanes and oil spill, there has been a special awareness of how closely we are connected as a community. I strongly believe that’s why we are supported. People know how close we all are in facing disasters, and as a community we can withstand any disaster — natural or manmade — including the disaster of hunger. Even if people aren’t giving as much to other programs, they know that food is one thing we can’t do without.”  

The St. Vincent de Paul Society has 350 councils and 4,700 parish conferences in the United States. According to its website, in 2009 they provided $329.5 million in services, plus $80 million in food, clothing and furniture. Less than 2 percent of the money comes from government programs.  

“We are heavily dependent on individual contributions, and there has been only a small decline since this [economic] downturn started,” Playwin said. “We have seen about a 200 percent increase in small donations — that’s $5, $10 and $20 — since 2009. I think that people are very sensitive to the fact that the focus of our mission is to help those who are vulnerable — the poor and the working poor. We even get contributions from people who would be classified as poor.”

Greater needs 

Recently, he added, some people in the middle class and upper middle class who lost their jobs are asking for help with their housing, utilities and other needs. 

“They are experiencing these things for the first time,” Playwin said. 

Judy Modecki, director of coordinated services and development for the Diocese of Greensburg in southwestern Pennsylvania, also noted the increase in “people who never needed to contact us before.” 

“For years it was single moms, then people who were unemployed for long periods of time,” she said. “Now we’re seeing families who have their same income and simply can’t make ends meet anymore.” 

Still, generosity abounds in the four-county diocese that includes Fayette County, which has Pennsylvania’s highest rate of households in distress at 35.4 percent. The recent capital and endowment campaign throughout the diocese had a goal of $45 million, and by the end of December pledges exceeded $55 million. Catholic Charities stands to get $3 million. 

“I think everybody knows somebody who has endured the burden of poverty at some point, so people are generally good-hearted,” Modecki said. “If they have it, they will give. And they will give even if they don’t have it.” 

The diocese’s 11 St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift stores are doing well, too. There are so many clothing and shoe donations that they started a processing operation to sell the overflow to brokers. 

“People are generous when they know they’re helping someone, and I think that people know our Vincentians have that extra spirituality,” diocesan council president Suzanne Markiewicz said. “They know who we are and that we will help anybody in need.”  

Helen Kelleher, executive director for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Allentown in northeastern Pennsylvania, said that because of unemployment and underemployment, “we get an enormous number of calls every day from people who need food and money for housing and utilities. Our refugee program has also been impacted, and it’s taking longer for some of them to become self-sufficient.” 

Last year’s appeal to parishes exceeded the year before, and Christmas donors gave food and toys to more than 1,000 people.  

“We get tremendous support,” Kelleher said. “I think people understand the need. We have had some very generous donors who really care.” 

In the Diocese of Burlington, the Vermont Catholic Charities is holding steady with donations from parish collections. 

“We just closed our appeal, and it’s been very successful, not just the collection part from the parishioners, but also with people inquiring about donating,” said Father Daniel White, moderator of the curia.  

For the past three years, donations have been holding up in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  

“It’s certainly a much tougher environment, and donations were down about 5 percent in 2010 compared to 2009,” said Tim Benz, vice president of development of communications for Catholic Charities. “But the number of individual donors has increased.” 

The agency has kept up with the increasing need for food and opened temporary space for overflow from two overnight homeless shelters. 

“We’ve increased our direct-mail campaign and are utilizing a new model to attract new donors and to reactivate previous donors,” Benz said about future fundraising.  

Budget cuts 

Client needs at Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Atlanta increased by 6 percent last quarter, resulting in a strategic plan that retains core services such as counseling and refugee resettlement, and eliminates adoption services. Pregnancy support is available, but if a woman chooses adoption, she is referred elsewhere. 

“Our contributions have been slightly down, mostly in corporate sponsorships,” said Karen Cramer, director of quality improvement. “But the number of donors is the same. They are just giving less. They give what they can, and we are grateful that they are staying with us. They make a huge difference in our clients’ lives.” 

Catholic Charities CYO in the Archdiocese of San Fran-cisco is experiencing budget cuts with an unknown impact on its many services to children, families and the elderly.  

“Like many social services agencies, we rely heavily on community support,” said communications officer Gabrielle Slanina Gallagher. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people who are giving, but with an average-size gift. This shows that people are willing to give, yet are still being conservative in the amount they are giving.” 

The unofficial trend, she added, is that “there has been more giving as the recession is resolving.” 

It takes a lot of spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts to raise a substantial amount of the $151 million-dollar budget for the work of the Knights of Columbus across the country.  

“We get funding from two sources,” said Senior Vice President Patrick Korten at Knights headquarters in New Haven, Conn. “The state and local councils raise money and people donate to them, and the Supreme Council donates from the money we make in our insurance business.” 

Last year, the insurance business picked up a $1 million shortfall from the state and local councils. Grants were given to individuals in need, churches, youth and vocation programs, evangelization, for ultrasounds in pregnancy centers, for the Special Olympics and programs for the intellectually handicapped. 

“Those who help us to help people obviously have continued to make Knights of Columbus charities the regular and continuing object of their charities,” Korten said. “They know the kind of work we do.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

Giving by generation (sidebar)

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University recently released results of a study published by Giving USA Foundation on charitable giving by generation, focusing particularly on millennials. Here is what the study found about generational charitable giving: 

Millennial (1981 and later): 33 percent of households gave, with an average amount of $557. 

Generation X (1964-1980): 59 percent, with an average contribution of $1,488. 

Baby boomers (1946-1963): 69 percent, with an average contribution of $2,613. 

Pre-boomers: 77 percent, with an average contribution of $2,540.