Feeding the hungry, housing the poor, educating the young, caring for the elderly, tending to the sick, fighting injustice, nurturing artists and musicians. . . .

Much of the positive work that takes place in the Washington area is accomplished not by the government or in the marketplace, but through nonprofit organizations that rely on the financial goodwill of the community.

This year, however, that goodwill is shrinking. Government cutbacks, fewer and smaller grants from charitable foundations, falling household income and public anger over financial and management problems at some larger nonprofits have hit the area's charities hard.

This year -- more than ever, these groups say -- they need your support. But how does one decide which groups to help? More than 25,000 nonprofits are in the Washington area. Choosing where to donate can be daunting.

In this issue, The Washington Post Extra sections in Northern Virginia profile a sampling of charities, arts groups and other community nonprofits that rely on donations of time and money. Also listed are Web sites and contact numbers for these and other local groups working to make a difference in people's lives.

The need is so great. But so is the generosity of our community.

Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry

Officials with the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry want their organization to be "the face of God" in this epidemic, which they're attempting to accomplish by providing services to those infected with, or affected by, HIV and AIDS.

Each year these services come in the form of education and prevention efforts with 26,000 high school students, transportation to medical appointments for 13,000 people, and social services for children whose lives are touched by the disease.

The ministry, which began in 1987, runs holiday gift drives, provides Thanksgiving dinners, organizes mentoring programs, funds summer camps and provides clothing and dental work.

This year the nonprofit started a program for adolescents whose substance abuse increases their risk of getting HIV.

About half of the organization's $1.5 million budget comes from federal grants. Local governments, religious organizations, special events, individuals and the United Way are also significant contributors.

About 80 percent of the budget funds direct services such as care providers, drivers, outreach and social work; the rest goes to administrative costs and fundraising.

"The primary mission here is to affirm God's love for everyone who has been touched by the epidemic," said executive director Nathan R. Monell. "We try to provide services delivered in a loving way."

703-746-0440 or

www.novam.org

Potomac Conservancy

For many Northern Virginia commuters, the Potomac River is the body of water that washes by the George Washington Parkway and flows under the Key, Roosevelt and Memorial bridges as they battle traffic to and from the city.

But that is just part of the journey for the mighty Potomac, which winds for 383 miles, touching three states and the District.

The Arlington-based Potomac Conservancy has as its mission protecting the river throughout its 15,000-square-mile watershed.

Founded nine years ago as a land trust -- to acquire property or the development rights along the Potomac in the Washington area -- the organization now focuses on conservation and land restoration.

Its presence is felt in myriad ways: It has organized tree plantings, fought residential clear-cutting for shoreline decks and stairs, set up a kayak patrol to watch for illegal development, and educated landowners and officials about conservation.

"We believe it is very important to develop a culture of conservation," said executive director Matthew Logan, who has helped the organization grow from a budget of $100,000 in 1998, when he arrived, to $1 million this year.

Recently, the conservancy produced a bilingual brochure outlining local fishing regulations, after a survey found that as many as 75 percent of those who fish in the Potomac are Hispanic.

"This is a diverse community, and if we're not reaching out to all those folks we're missing opportunities," Logan said.

703-276-2777 or

www.potomac.org

Legal Aid Justice Center

In his Falls Church office, lawyer Tim Freilich keeps a large photo of a $200 check.

On the document -- made out by a Vienna contractor to a day laborer he employed in 2000 -- the contractor had scribbled "void." When the worker tried to cash it, the bank refused.

"That type of thing goes on all the time," said Freilich, managing attorney of the local office of the Virginia Justice Center for Farm and Immigrant Workers, one of three main programs of the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Freilich's office, which represents low-wage immigrants in Northern Virginia, exists to ensure that those at the bottom of the economic ladder get fair treatment.

The center, created in 1998, represents nannies, construction workers, food preparers, landscape workers and others, many of whom speak no English and have little formal education.

The group recently came to the aid of Nader Sinnugrot when a siding-installation contractor paid him for only 45 of the 80 hours of work he had completed. With the center's help, Sinnugrot won a $900 court judgment. The check for the lost wages is "on its way," Sinnugrot reported with a wide smile last week.

These days, the center is facing its own financial crisis. With state funding for legal aid slashed, it has raised only $140,000 of its $320,000 budget for next year.

Still, the center is determined to push forward. Said Freilich: "We'll keep doing this work as long as we can."

703-538-3953 or

www.justice4all.org

Coalition Against Hunger

Wayne Rodgers enjoys feeding people almost as much as Julia Child does.

Rodgers founded the Haymarket-based Coalition Against Hunger in 1989. He and Director of Operations Priscilla Delean run the nonprofit with an outstretched hand and a big heart. No one is turned away.

"Are they hungry?" Rodgers asks. If they are, he feeds them. "If they've got problems they want to talk about, we'll talk to them."

Delean said the coalition serves a core group of about 40 regulars and as many or more walk-ins on any given day. The group also delivers meals and clothes to homes in some cases. Last year, about 2,800 people were helped, she said.

Several weeks ago, Delean was surprised to meet a woman who had just lost her job as an accountant at a major company locally.

"I thought she was a contributor when she walked in," Delean said. "With three kids, two cars, a very nice house . . . here she is, with a white-collar job, and all of the sudden she doesn't have the money for baby formula. . . .

"We're seeing more and more of that."

Rodgers said the coalition has been scraping by since Sept. 11, 2001. Last year's budget was $41,000, but donations only totaled $29,000, including $5,000 from the United Way. Rodgers made up the difference himself.

To help defray expenses, the coalition also accepts donated used vehicles.

703-754-1355 or

www.feedthepeople.org

Vpstart Crow Productions

When students "talk back," Timothy Shaw can't help but smile.

He has spent the past nine years spreading his passion for theater to Prince William County as executive director of Vpstart Crow Productions, a nonprofit theater group based in Old Town Manassas. The group takes its name from a 1592 pamphlet that is thought to contain the first printed reference to William Shakespeare, as an "upstart crow." (The V in Vpstart is an Elizabethan U.)

As part of an educational outreach program called Free Will, Vpstart Crow puts on free Sunday matinees for students and youth groups. At the last show, or by special request, the theater group will hold a "talk back" session, at which audience members can ask questions of the actors and set designers.

One of the few professional theater companies in Northern Virginia, Vpstart Crow puts on about five productions a year -- "a cultural benefit to the community," Shaw said.

Currently the troupe is presenting "A Christmas Carol," through Dec 22 at the Cramer Center on Center Street.

Tickets, which are $15 to $18, supplement government funding and corporate and individual donations.

Shaw hopes to expand the Free Will program to include visits to local schools by actors and designers.

703-365-0240 or

www.vpstartcrow.org

Staff writer Michele Clock contributed to this report.