Many of the charities that traditionally depend on Christmas spirit to help them raise money and merchandise for the needy are finding themselves in need this season as inflation and economic problems cut into holiday giving.
In Washington, a city often considered recession-proof because of its secure government labor force, the Salvation Army and Associated Catholic Charities say they are feeling the pinch. And in nearby Baltimore, the effect on some annual collections has been dramatic.
"We're real low," said Sgt. Kash Collins of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots program in Baltimore.
More than 150,000 requests for toys came in on lists prepared by churches, service organizations and state agencies, but the Baltimore Marines have received only about 12,000 donations in their collection boxes. Last year, they received 120,000 requests and filled them all, Collins said.
"It's the economy," Collins said. "People aren't giving like they have in the past."
The story is similar for other groups that are not members of the United Way and run their own fund-raising campaigns at Christmastime.
The Salvation Army, suffering its worst year in a decade, has fallen $13,000 short of the $50,000 it expected to have raised at this point in its annual Thanksgiving-to-Christmas campaign. The organization had hoped to have $100,000 in its Washington area kettles by Christmas.
While the Associated Catholic Charities in the Washington Archdiocese are faring a bit better, their brethren in Baltimore have taken in only $2,500 toward their goal of $15,000 for the annual Christmas Project. Donations in clothing, food and cash "have fallen off to a trickle," according to one coordinator.
The Jaycees' Santa Claus Anonymous program, which distributes 55,000 certificates redeemable for toys and clothes at Baltimore area stores, planned to raise $275,000 this year. But the Jaycees are $275,000 this year. But the Jaycees are $1,000 off last year's pace.
"There may be some scaling back in giving," said David Sherman, president of the drive. "Inflation and tight money are the primary reasons."
The Toys for Tots and Christmas Project collections in Washingting are closer to last year's figures.
"We're not hurting bad," said Ralph Shaffer of the Associated Catholic Charities, whose Christmas Project in the Washington area is in its 13th year. The charity solicits money, food and clothing and distributes them to 20 parishes in the area. But inflation is taking its tool, Shaffer said.
Fewer people contributred this year, but the charity was able to keep up because this year's individual contributions were larger, Shaffer said.
The Marines have collected more than 75,000 footballs, tea sets, doll houses and other toys, matching the number donated in the Washington area last year.
Lt. Col. John Clements at the Navy Yard Annex in Anacostia said the program was saved by a rock concert last week at the Capital Centre.
As part of the price of admission to the benefit performance by Foreigner and KC and the Sunshine Band, each concertgoer was told to bring a toy to donate. More than 21,00 were collected in one shot, some as lavish as $20 Tonka trucks.
"That was a real bonanza," Clements said. "This is a very affluent area, and it supports the Toys for Tots. But the demand is tremendous. It's greater than the supply every year."
Despite its kettles and bell ringers deployed in the busiest shopping areas around Washington, the Salvation Army is having its worst year in the last 10.
"What we do at Christmas makes a year," said Maj. J.B. Mathews, Washington area commander. "Even in tough times when everybody was feeling the pinch, it wasn't this bad. People are saying, I don't feel like Christmas with all this uncertainty about Iran and the economic situation."