The line begins to form outside the squat brick building with the bars on the windows before 8 a.m.
When the doors finally open more than half an hour later, in they come: the woman toting a bundle of blankets and a feverish baby; the man failed first by his kidneys, then by a lack of health insurance; the teenager seeking psychological counseling in Spanish; the grandmother learning to read English.
Here in the crowded waiting room at Mary's Center in Adams Morgan, in the shadow of freshly rehabbed lofts with granite kitchen countertops and high-six-figure price tags, the needs of a community are on display. And they're growing.
The center, which was founded in 1988 primarily to provide Latino women with pre- and neonatal care, can hardly keep up with the soaring demand for what has become a sprawling menu of services, which include job training and gang prevention. In the past four years, the center has more than doubled the number of people it serves -- 7,850 from 3,255.
"We're bursting at the seams because there's just so much need," said center president and chief executive Maria Gomez.
But finding the funds to meet that need hasn't been easy. Despite a recovering economy and growing prosperity in the Washington region, local nonprofits have found themselves scrounging for every last nickel this year to meet the needs of the people they serve. As contributions fail to keep pace with increases in such key costs as rent and health care, and with the number of people in need climbing, many nonprofits struggled just to provide the same level of assistance they did last year.
"You add up the three factors -- flat funding, rising expenses and rising demand -- and a nonprofit is left with the really hard choice of thinning the soup or shortening the line," said Chuck Bean, executive director of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, which advocates for Washington area service organizations.
A report on Washington area nonprofits released by the Brookings Institution in August showed that 78 percent incurred increased costs between 2001 and 2003, and 60 percent served more people. Yet only about a third saw their federal or local government funding increase. Thirty-nine percent of organizations received more in donations from private donors.
Nonprofits thrived during the boom years of the late 1990s, but their situation has been far more tenuous ever since. While the Washington region weathered the 2001 recession much better than most metro areas, its residents and businesses still have had cause for anxiety. "People are more hesitant [to give] because of the economy. People have to worry about their jobs," said Kae Dakin, president of Washington Grantmakers, an association of individual, corporate and foundation donors. "So on the one hand you have 23,000 nonprofits in need. And on the other you have declining sources of revenue."
Although no final statistics are available, the situation does not seem to have improved markedly in 2004 as the economy has bumped its way through a recovery. Nonprofits' fortunes may have actually been hurt this year by the election, especially in politics-crazed Washington. With dollars and volunteer hours pouring into campaigns, there was less of both available for many of the same causes that the politicians vowed to promote, local nonprofit leaders say.
"I'm hearing from a lot of people that all their resources are going to the campaigns this year and that they don't have the dollars for straight charitable contributions," said David Bender, vice president for development at Mary's Center.
Now that the election is over, most nonprofit leaders are hoping the pendulum will swing back. But some fear, too, that the election results, with Republicans in ascendancy, could portend even tighter budgets for their groups in the four years ahead. That's especially true at a time of ballooning government deficits, with pressure growing to cut spending and bring costs back in line with revenue. Groups that rely on state funds have already felt the pinch, and those that count on federal dollars say they are expecting to come under increasing pressure, too.
Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society, said he foresees non-governmental groups such as his having to take greater responsibility for the upkeep of the land and rivers, meaning they will have to raise more money. "We have to wring our hands and appeal more to the foundations and the private sector," he said.
Boone said that with two new stadiums proposed for the shores of the Anacostia -- one for baseball, the other for soccer -- attention has been focused on the river's health. But that doesn't necessarily translate into more dollars. Donors, he said, are always looking for a new cause to champion, even though the fundamental needs of the region may not change much.
"You may be feeding the homeless, but you have to have a new menu each year to keep [donors'] interest. You've got to come up with a new jingle to tickle their brains. If you give them leftovers, they're not going to give," he said.
Leaders of relatively young nonprofits say getting donors to pay attention to new needs isn't always easy, either. Frankie Blackburn, executive director of IMPACT Silver Spring, a five-year-old community-building organization, said one of the biggest challenges she has faced is convincing donors in Montgomery County that with the growth of the immigrant population there, the area's needs have changed.
"That's the first hurdle you have to overcome. It's new. It's hidden. It's isolated in diverse communities that people don't get exposed to," Blackburn said. "We've all grown up with the inner-city story. But we really don't understand what's happening in the suburbs."
While the need in the District remains acute, nonprofit leaders say they are seeing more people in need in areas outside the Beltway. That's partly a result of the area's growing affluence, as higher housing prices in the District drive poorer families away from the region's core. "You see housing prices rising astronomically and you wonder where people live to have an affordable house," said Kathy Whelpley, vice president of program and donor engagement for the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region. "There's a growing gap between individuals who have been able to take advantage of the incredible economic growth in this region over the last 10 to 15 years, and deepening poverty in other pockets."
The movement of immigrants, in particular, to the outlying suburbs explains why Mary's Center has clients from as far away as Prince William and Frederick counties.
One recent morning, Apolonia Jarquin, a 65-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant from Hyattsville, rode three buses for an hour and a half for an appointment at the center, a trip she has been making regularly for the past four years. She continues to come to Mary's Center because they accept Medicare and Medicaid and because the staff speaks Spanish. "I like the way they treat me," Jarquin said through an interpreter. "I can communicate with the doctors."
Luis Gutierrez, a 33-year-old resident of Northwest Washington, doesn't have to go as far to get to the center, but he said it has been just as indispensable to him. When damage to his kidneys required that he go on dialysis, he initially couldn't get treatment because he lacked health insurance. But staff at the center helped him navigate the paperwork needed to enroll in the District's insurance program, and now he is getting the care he needs.
"If it weren't for that insurance," he said, "I would have had to buy the medication, and there are 12 different medications. I wouldn't have been able to pay that kind of money."