With Coffers Low, Charities to Get Emergency Grants

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

With the financial crisis increasing pressure on the Washington area's social safety net, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region has decided to award $526,000 in emergency grants to shore up charities that provide food, clothing, shelter and other vital services to vulnerable residents.

The grants, to be announced today, will help more than 40 nonprofit organizations across the region. The funding comes at a perilous time for many service charities, which have reported a rise in demand for their assistance during the past year. They say they are bracing for a shortfall in donations during the holidays, when they normally raise as much as half of their annual operating revenue.

"Everybody is like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting to see what it's going to look like," Terri Lee Freeman, president of the Community Foundation, said of nonprofit leaders. "All of them say that demand is going up, cost of doing business is going up and they're very nervous that funding is decreasing."

Groups receiving grants will use the money to distribute food, provide shelter and transitional housing for homeless people, and give emergency funds to families struggling with rent and other basic expenses.

The money will help charities protect "those people who are kind of on the edge, are falling off the cliff, and they have to be able to depend on something," Freeman said.

Miriam's Kitchen, a Northwest Washington shelter that provides food and transitional housing for the homeless, is receiving $27,500 from the Community Foundation to expand its evening meals program. Last fall, the agency served 180 meals a day, but demand has increased by more than 20 percent in the past year, to 220 meals a day, Executive Director Scott Schenkelberg said.

"We're seeing huge numbers of new people," Schenkelberg said. "At this time, when we see increased demand and dwindling resources or the fear of dwindling resources, this [grant] is incredibly important."

Nonprofit organizations in the suburbs are facing similar pressures. Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services, which helps poor, disabled and elderly residents in Northern Virginia, has seen demand soar for emergency financial aid. The organization is receiving $10,000 from the Community Foundation to boost a program that gives strapped families cash to pay rent and utility bills.

"A lot of what we hear relates to their hours have been cut at work, or there's some kind of medical situation," said Shannon Steene, the agency's executive director.

Interfaith Works, a Rockville nonprofit organization, provides similar services to residents of Montgomery County and is receiving a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation.

"These funds are what we use to directly support folks who come to us in financial crisis, who are facing eviction, utility bills, phone bills -- those kinds of direct needs," said Barbara Garlock, the group's development director. "We're already seeing a huge upswing in those kinds of requests."

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