Grant funding dries up, groups rely on community

Published 12:03 am Sunday, November 28, 2010

NATCHEZ — In a time when needs are going up, local non-profits have seen their funding going down.

Catholic Charities, which operates the Guardian Shelter for Abused Families and other programs in Natchez, lost $75,000 in grant funding for the emergency shelter.

Martha Mitternight, director of Catholic Charities, said in addition to the loss of that funding, other grants and sources of funding have stayed stagnant as requests for assistance have gone up.

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“We have seen a tremendous increase in requests for help with utility bills, rent and groceries and the money we get for those programs has stayed static,” Mitternight said. “We haven’t been able to meet all of those needs. Right now we are just out of money. We have spent everything we had.”

The $75,000 the agency lost was approximately 35 percent of the shelter’s overall budget. The agency was expecting to receive that funding in August, but found out in May they would not receive any of those funds.

And that group isn’t the only local non-profit that had its budget turned upside down after losing a large grant.

Sunshine Shelter, an emergency shelter for children in abused or neglected situations, lost $46,000 in funding from a grant from the department of public safety victim assistance funds.

Matilda Stephens, executive director of the not-for-profit Sunshine Shelter, said the $46,000 was the largest source of funding the agency received outside of funding from the Department of Human Services.

“It was a huge, huge lose for us,” Stephens said. “When you run a budget that is down to the penny, losing that significant portion of funding is hard to overcome.

“We’ve had to scramble to do fundraising and save money creatively.”

And so far the shelter has kept its doors open.

“There was no fat to cut,” Stephens said of the budget. “It was just a question of what else we could do to help save more money.”

One thing Stephens said the shelter has done is not fill two open childcare positions at the shelter. Instead, employees have stepped up to fill in wherever they are needed.

“It is one of those things where you wear as many hats as you can cram on your head,” Stephens said. “Working here isn’t just a job for anyone at the shelter. This is where our hearts are.”

It’s also where the community’s heart is too, Stephens said.

She said when the news was released that the shelter was losing the funding, she received calls from people wanting to organize fundraisers and donate to make sure the doors stayed open and children had a safe place to sleep.

“We had a community member who called us and organized a softball tournament to benefit us,” Stephens said. “We were able to raise $3,500 because someone stepped up to help these kids.”

Stephens has also seen an increase in memorial and honorarium donations to the shelter.

“We are down to bare bones, but the community and groups have stepped up to help fill needs,” Stephens said.

Mitternight said the community has also stepped up to raise money for the Guardian Shelter. The shelter raised $4,000 during a new fundraiser — the Purple Dress Run in October — and the agency has received a large number of in kind donations of food and supplies that have helped to defray costs.

“At this point, we haven’t had to cut any programs,” Mitternight said. “We have done our best to manage the budget to try to minimize the impact of the amount we lost, but $4,000 is a far cry from $75,000.”

Mitternight said there is a chance Catholic Charities will regain the lost grant in the summer, but nothing is certain now.

She said there have been changes at the federal level in the way the grant is distributed and she hopes the shelter will once again be eligible for the grant assistance.

“My hope is we can get the entire amount back and continue to help because there is a great need,” Mitternight said. “But we won’t know for a while.”

She said she would likely find out in February or March if the Guardian Shelter’s grant has been reinstated, but no money will arrive until the summer.

Stephens said there is an opportunity for the shelter to expand its offerings to include a drug and alcohol prevention program for children at the shelter.

If the Sunshine Shelter does get that accreditation, there is funding available for which Stephens will apply.

“One of the big problems we have is every teenager that comes in has had some contact with drugs and alcohol,” she said. “In many cases it is a defense mechanism for everything else bad they are going through so there is a need to offer that sort of program at our shelter.”

But until that happens, Mitternight and Stephens said they will continue to do what is necessary to serve those in need.

“At the end of the day we are here to take care of these children who have been failed by so many other people,” Stephens said. “We can’t fail them here.”