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Correction to This Article
A photo caption incorrectly identified a location used by the McKenna's Wagon soup kitchen as Fifth and K streets NW. The location is Fourth and L streets NW. A Nov. 22 The article transposed D.C. and Maryland numbers in describing increases in the number of people receiving food stamps. Participation in the program rose by almost 29 percent in Maryland and by 15 percent in the District from May 2008 to May 2009.
Charitable Giving 2009

A great burden grows

In this bleak economy, the lines are growing long at organizations like Martha's Table, a nonprofit in the District where a record number of people wait each day for a bit of something -- food or clothing or medicine -- to see them through.

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The Washington Post - November 21, 2009
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

A year after the global economy teetered on the verge of collapse, a recession -- a lingering and unwelcome guest -- has settled in at dinner tables across the land.

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And while plates are empty at some homes, the lines grow long at organizations like Martha's Table, a nonprofit in the District where a record number of people wait each day for a bit of something -- food or clothing or educational programs -- to see them through.

"It can be a swelling river with all the different tributaries feeding into it," said Lindsey Buss, president and chief executive of Martha's Table. "And the rain isn't stopping."

Across the region, demand for basic services has skyrocketed, fueled by people losing jobs in the bleak economy. For the nonprofits that provide many of those services, the economic crisis has taken a bitter toll as well; funding was down from most sources last year, with foundation endowments bludgeoned by the stock market, businesses losing money and local government budgets stretched.

After last year's financial crash, nonprofit, government and business leaders created the Eight Neighbors group, banding together to help the region's most vulnerable people. At the "Nonprofit 911" meeting Monday, they talked about weathering the toughest year in recent memory, and braced for the one ahead.

Alice Rivlin, an economist at the Brookings Institution and a former Federal Reserve governor, told community leaders that the downturn had worsened the socioeconomic divide in the city. There's low unemployment in wards 2 and 3, she said, but "in Ward 8 it's a Great Depression, it's 25 percent unemployment."

And 2010 looks to be even more difficult.

So when the pantry is picked clean, where do charities turn to keep up their mission? Well, back to the dinner table. As the traditional giving season begins -- Martha's Table, for example, gets three-quarters of its individual donations during the holidays -- nonprofits are wondering how much people writing checks will give this year. Or whether they'll give at all.

"Individual donors are the biggest question mark left for 2009," Buss said, "and everybody's anxious to see what's going to happen. We know people are hurting."

Dire situation

The need is obvious: Food stamp participation in the District climbed almost 29 percent from May 2008 to this May; it grew 15 percent in Maryland and nearly 23 percent in Virginia.

Funding requests to the United Way of the National Capital Area doubled this year, with $20 million in requests for the $3.9 million available.

The situation is dire, according to Glen O'Gilvie, chief executive of the Center for Nonprofit Advancement.


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