Charities running low

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 13, 2001

NATCHEZ – With Christmas almost upon the Miss-Lou, most local charities this week say donations are down this year.

&uot;The main thing we need is money,&uot; said Louis Gunning, president of the board for the Stewpot in Natchez.

As compared to this time last year, Stewpots funds are down by close to $5,000 forcing the agency to dip into its savings fund, Gunning said.

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&uot;We’re probably (as) short on operating money as we have ever been,&uot; Gunning said.

Typically during the holiday season, donations tend to go up so Gunning is hoping that will happen this year too.

If someone prefers not to give cash, gift certificates to a local grocery store are helpful, because it allows the Stewpot staff to buy specifically what the agency needs, Gunning said.

The Stewpot also needs more volunteers, Gunning said.

&uot;I have a lot of trouble getting people to work on Sunday,&uot; he said.

Capt. Geraldine E. Martin, with the local chapter of the Salvation Army, said one of her biggest concerns right now is the agency’s Angel Tree. The Salvation Army placed more than 500 &uot;angels&uot; on its tree this year for adoption by the public.

But even though the deadline to supply the gifts to the Salvation Army was Dec. 10, only about two-thirds have been returned, Martin said.

&uot;We really need to put a push on returning the angel tree gifts,&uot; she said.

The Salvation Army staff and volunteers must go out and purchase gifts for all the children placed on the Angel Tree whose gifts are not returned or for those children who are not adopted.

That takes time and money, Martin said.

The Salvation Army also plans to provide meals to more than 1,000 people this year through its Christmas Food Assistance Program.

This is a higher number than in past years and puts further strains on funds, Martin said.

To complicate matters more, the Salvation has received fewer donations this year, Martin said.

As of Tuesday Dec. 11, the Salvation Army had collected $20,945. By this time last year, it had collected $36,699 and more than $51,000 by the end of the holiday season, Martin said.

Martin attributed this year’s drop to the economy, the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, a loss of employment in the community, a need for more volunteers and fewer hours for the Red Kettle Drive this year.

But she has faith that &uot;God is a God of miracles&uot; and that the Salvation Army will receive the assistance it needs. &uot;Until Dec. 24 at 4 o’clock it can happen,&uot; she said.

Chris Vaughan, co-chairman of the Concordia Christmas Fund, said donations came in slower this year, but he thinks the agency has what it needs to assist 235 families with food and Christmas toys.

&uot;I think we’re on target,&uot; he said. &uot;If the economy would have been a little better we probably would have done a bit better. But all and all it’s pretty good.&uot;

As of Tuesday night, 88 of 250 &uot;angels&uot; were still left on the Junior Auxiliary’s Angel Tree, said coordinator Darlene Sparks said Wednesday.

&uot;I don’t know if it’s the economy that’s causing it or what,&uot; Sparks said. &uot;We just need people to help.&uot;

And participants only have until Friday to take names from the tree, buy and wrap the children’s presents and deliver them to the tree at AmSouth Bank on Franklin Street.

&uot;Or they can make cash donations which we’ll use to buy presents for the children that are left,&uot; Sparks said.

Each year, Natchez’s JA chapter gets the names of needy children from such agencies as the Department of Human Services, Adams County Court-Appointed Special Advocates and Catholic Charities.

Each child’s first name, age and sex are placed on an ornament that is then placed on a tree in the bank’s lobby.

Each individual, group or business who adopts an &uot;angel&uot; buys Christmas presents for that child and is asked to return them, wrapped, to the bank’s lobby by 5 p.m. Friday for distribution.

The ornaments do not include specifics about what type of presents to buy.

A group of volunteers is also buying gifts for older children at the Guardian Shelter, a temporary shelter for victims of abuse, said volunteer Sheri Rabb.

Kelly’s Kids has donated outfits for the shelter’s younger children. But the group has a list of clothing sizes for the children, ages 11 to 16, as well as a wish list of toys such as compact disc players and Playstation games.

&uot;Several people have given money for us to buy the presents, but we’re still a couple of hundred dollars shorts,&uot; Rabb said. &uot;And of course, people can volunteer to buy some of the items and bring them in, too.&uot;

As it now stands, the deadline for donations is Monday, because the group is scheduled to deliver the gifts at 10 a.m. Dec. 21.

At the same time, Natchez’s Children’s Christmas Tree Fund has raised about $3,000 to purchase gifts for needy children. Last year, the fund raised about $7,000.

&uot;And I have no reason to believe that people won’t come through this year,&uot; said Chairperson Katherine Killelea.

&uot;Individuals, businesses and organizations are really responding,&uot; she said. &uot;We even had a lady who moved to Florida send us a check. She said, ‘I couldn’t let the children down.’ &uot;

The gifts will be distributed at Braden School on Christmas Eve.