A Nov. 24 article on charitable organizations should have said Bread for the City, the District's largest food pantry, receives money from the United Black Fund and private donations, not from United Way. (Published 12/4/90)

Many of the area's charities, long the first line of defense for the poor, are struggling to absorb new waves of the needy: newly laid-off workers, the elderly, the working poor and others hit hard by rising prices and a sagging economy.

Charities' directors worry that those who have given freely in good times -- individuals, churches and service organizations -- may be less willing to match their past contributions this year because they are concerned with their own economic standing.

While major fund-raising organizations, such as the United Way of the National Capital Area campaign, say donations for now are steady, individual charities and agencies see signs that resources, already barely keeping pace with need, may fall behind when the holiday spirit evaporates.

"Nonprofits are really worried," said J. Mark Langlais, executive director of the Community Clinic, Montgomery County's largest free clinic. "With the economy souring, we are fearful that charitable contributions will decrease."

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, for example, which has been deluged by families on the brink of homelessness or heatless nights, has run out of two types of emergency assistance money.

The administrators of a Reston cooperative day-care center are worried that if more suddenly jobless parents seek subsidized slots, they might have to lay off staff members.

In another case, Community Ministry of Montgomery County had to make a special appeal to its member churches this summer to keep its food banks and shelters open.

"For the first time in five years, the program over the summer was just down to almost no funds at all," said Rosalyn Thompson, director of the ministry's emergency assistance program. "We've been able to keep up with the demand, but because of the incredible growth in the past year . . . for the first time we've {had to say}, 'We need help, people.' "

The member churches responded, Thompson said, but now when Community Ministry asks for donations, it is finding that congregations are demanding more documentation of need. "They want to make sure the dollars they are giving have maximum impact," she said.

Montgomery's Community Ministry is not alone. Around the region, many nonprofit groups that have long been able to help the needy in an area of relative affluence are feeling the double-whammy of increased demand caused by the troubles of the area's real estate-fueled economy and a growing caution among corporations and individuals about giving money.

The Allen Chapel Outreach Center in Southeast, a struggling service center supported by several churches, increasingly has had to turn away the hungry. Because of the increased need, its food allotment now lasts only half a month. The center's employment counselor also is overwhelmed by people seeking work.

And donations, which have tended to fluctuate, lately have stayed low. "It's down because a lot of people who would {give} can't because of the economy," said the Rev. Ponce L. Brown, director of the center. "If we can't find any other support for the programs, they are going to be nonexistent."

The Visiting Nurse Association of Northern Virginia provides $35,000 in free care each month. Many of its patients are people who recently lost their insurance. Lately, the association has begun leaving donation envelopes with patients, a practice initially resisted by many of the agency's nurses and staff. But, said spokeswoman Tere Linehan, "without the funds, we'd be saying 'no' just like the insurance companies are saying 'no.' "

At Bread for the City, the District's largest food pantry, the number of people seeking assistance is up 25 percent over last year to more than 2,000 families a month. The charity's ability to feed those people has been hampered in the last year by a slack-off in surplus food available from the federal government.

In the last few months, Bread for the City's regular mix of the homeless, the elderly poor and the working poor have been joined by increasing numbers of the newly unemployed, such as former employees of the bankrupt National Bank of Washington, who stood in line this fall to get bags of food to tide them over until unemployment checks arrived.

The majority of the pantry's $565,000 budget comes from individual donations, including United Way money, direct contributions and money from about 80 churches and synagogues.

"We haven't noticed a drop-off at this point yet, but it's hard to get a good sense of it because the need is always so far outstripping the resources that no matter what's coming in, you feel you just have your head above water," said the Rev. Charles A. Parker, executive director of Bread for the City, which also hands out clothing and provides counseling and referral services.

Like administrators of many other charities and nonprofit aid groups, Parker is developing a contingency plan in case the economy slides into a full-blown recession: intensifying fund-raising, stretching resources a little further and seeking new government contracts. Some charities also said they would rely more heavily on volunteers rather than paid staff. Others said they would turn more often to foundations for grants to keep programs going.

But many nonprofit organizations are finding that local and state governments, which once provided a small but steady stream of funds, also are cutting back. Last week, for example, Maryland officials, in a sweep of the budget-cutting pen, eliminated the Statewide Nutrition Assistance Program, which provided money for food banks that distributed food to soup kitchens and pantries. The state also eliminated a program that provided emergency food for migrant workers on the Eastern Shore.

In Virginia, the governor has reduced funding by 5 percent to the nonprofit community services boards that provide programs such as medical care to the needy, prisoner reentry services and job training.

"It's unbelievable that these cuts are made after a documented rise in emergency needs for food," said Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee. "This is the time to strengthen the partnership between the government and the volunteer sector, not to dismantle it."

Stepping up fund-raising also may be difficult as organizations compete to broaden their donor base.

Community Ministry of Prince George's County, for example, recently began soliciting businesses to supplement the money it gets from churches. "But with a lot of the businesses, I'm getting rejection letters saying they have spent their budgets," said Patricia Brown, director of the organization's coordinating center. "Some are coming out and saying, 'We don't give to charities,' which really surprised me."

Brother Help Thyself, a charity that plans to raise money for 26 organizations that provide services to the gay community and get no government funds, recently delayed sending out a letter soliciting money because many contributors are federal workers who have faced their own budget uncertainties. After the federal budget crisis was resolved, the letter was sent.

Yet even as the Washington area struggles against an economic downturn precipitated by higher prices, a sagging development industry, layoffs in the weapons industry and closures of major retail outlets, the area and its charities are doing much better than in other areas of the country, at least for now.

The local United Way campaign has reported that this year's fund-raising push, which began Sept. 7, is running ahead of last year's. Officials of the United Black Fund said they are confident that donations this year will hold steady.

By contrast, in other communities, plant closings, layoffs and the replacement of full-time workers with temporary ones have meant problems for some on-the-job fund-raising campaigns, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The newspaper reported that officials at half of the country's largest United Way campaigns project that their 1990 donations will be 6.5 percent higher than last year, or less than 1 percentage point over the annual inflation rate.

In the Washington area, while none of the directors of nonprofit organizations who were interviewed said they have laid off workers or closed programs, several said that if demand continues to rise and donations hold steady or fall, program cuts may be necessary.

Langlais, of the Community Clinic, said that in the last year he has canceled some services, including employment and immigration physicals. The clinic also for the first time is considering residence requirements and is seeking to supplement its paid staff with volunteers.

On one recent cold afternoon, about 30 people waited in line, many of them for more than an hour, for the Manna Food Center in the warehouse section of Rockville to open. For many, the boxes of food would be their main source of nutrition. For others, the food would help stretch their food stamps to the end of the month.

But inside the warehouse, director Tom Lawrey kept an eye on the number of referral slips taped to a panel. If the referrals go much over 50, then workers would have to turn people away. A third of Manna's cash comes from an annual fund drive, the rest from grants and private donations.

One man, Lawrey said, has over the years quietly given the pantry increasingly large contributions -- first $200, then $500 and finally last year, $1,500. So far this year, Lawrey said, the pantry hasn't heard from him.