Charitable drives to collect food, money and clothing for needy families during the Christmas season appear likely to set new records this year despite the Washington area's economic slump, according to fund-raising officials.
"When the times are rough, people dig a little deeper," said Keith Jones, communications and fund-raising director for the Salvation Army, which gives Christmas toys and baskets of food to more than 20,000 Washington-area families.
The Salvation Army's recent fund-raising campaign has already raised about $700,000, a 12 percent increase over last year, Jones said. Nevertheless, he added that the rise in donations has not kept pace with increased appeals for help.
"Compared to last year, the requests for help are in excess of 20 percent greater," Jones said.
Despite the rise in donations to many charities, several holiday-season drives appear to be falling short of their goals.
The Toys for Tots campaign, run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and WRC-TV, has reported a sharp drop in the number of toys given for Christmas gifts to needy youngsters. Last year, the drive collected about 42,000 toys, officials said. This month, the total has reached only about 9,000 toys.
Marine Corps officials attributed part of the decrease to cancellation of a rock music concert at which many toys are normally donated. The concert's cancellation stemmed from a mix-up in plans, they said.
But officials also blamed the decrease in contributions partly on the economic downturn. "We're bitterly disappointed," said Lt. Col. Ron Eckert.
Donations of toys to Children's Hospital National Medical Center also have decreased markedly, according to Arlene Kiely, the hospital's volunteer services director. "This is the worst I have ever seen it," she said. "We've gotten about one-tenth of what we usually get at this time." About 200 toys have been given to the hospital this year, all from three organizations, including the White House.
Meanwhile, however, financial contributions to Children's Hospital are equaling or exceeding last year's, officials said.
Fund-raising officials throughout the area say they are uncertain why donations of toys have decreased while contributions of money, food and clothing are rising sharply. Several officials suggested that some givers may consider toys less essential than food and clothing during times of growing hardship.
The rise in fund-raising was signaled earlier in the season by the annual campaign by the United Way of the National Capital Area. The drive, which ended Dec. 2, collected $35.2 million, about a 12 percent increase over last year.
The Food for Christmas Drive, sponsored by a foundation set up by Temporaries Inc. and radio station WMAL, has shown sizable growth, officials say. "This year it looks like we will just completely outdo all of our previous efforts to the point of doubling them," said Marcy Homa, a marketing exective of the clerical-worker referral service and coordinator of the drive. Last year, the campaign collected more than 60,000 cans of food for elderly and other needy persons.
Dollars for Needy Children, a drive sponsored by WDVM-TV, WTOP radio and the Downtown Jaycees, "is doing much better than it did last year," said Ed Arnold, community and public relations manager for WDVM.