At Food for Others, a nonprofit agency in Fairfax City, the turkeys trickled in this week. Members of a Brownie troop pooled their cookie money and bought 10 birds. Strangers and longtime volunteers brought others.
With the loss of a state grant that enabled them to spend $9,000 last year on Thanksgiving baskets, the agency decided it could give out only 400 turkeys next week, compared with 900 last year.
"We're not able to do this year what we have in the past," Executive Director Roxanne Rice said. "It means that a lot of families will not be receiving holiday assistance."
That is a conclusion repeated across the area this year. The food drives and canned good donations that often embody the Thanksgiving season allow thousands of poor and low-income families to eat a solid holiday meal with all the trimmings. But this year, some agencies and nonprofits have had to limit their Thanksgiving offerings; at the same time, they face more requests for help.
"People are doing less than what they did in the past," said Marian Peele, director of agency relations for the Capital Area Food Bank, the Washington region's largest nonprofit nutrition and food organization with 750 member agencies. The food bank cannot donate turkeys and must charge members the cost. That, Peele said, is "a little bit of a challenge" for some members.
Christine Wiley, co-pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest Washington, said her church wants to keep up the same level of Thanksgiving offerings as in past years, but it has been difficult.
The church, near Bolling Air Force Base, lost a key outreach staff member this year because of budget cuts. That person had years of experience in lining up food donations. The church has relied on volunteers and, she said, missed a deadline with a city nonprofit. All was not lost -- the nonprofit agreed to give the church 10 turkeys despite the deadline. "We're running behind compared to last year," Wiley said. Church workers will try up to the last minute to keep things as they have been. "It's difficult to cut back because there is a real expectation from the community that they will be able to count on the church," she said.
Wiley said the church plans to give out 100 Thanksgiving baskets, about half of them sponsored by the congregation. The rest come from various sources in the community, and Wiley said that this year, "We're not sure if we're going to make it."
Such struggles are complicated by a growing demand for charity. Across the region, government agencies and nonprofit groups reported higher numbers of needy families this year. The District's Department of Human Services plans to give out 250 Thanksgiving baskets, answering more than double last year's requests. And in Montgomery County, Andrea Jolly, director of the Volunteer Center, which coordinates referrals among 600 county agencies and community groups, has received 6,800 Thanksgiving referrals, 800 more than last year.
Jolly attributed that increase to parents who have jobs but still struggle to feed their families.
"A lot of who we serve are the working poor," she said.
Mary Foster, programs manager for Our Daily Bread in Fairfax County, spent yesterday putting mailing labels on the envelopes that held Thanksgiving gift certificates. Last year, the small nonprofit had about $2,300 to spend on Thanksgiving baskets, from a combination of outside donations and money from its budget.
This year, the donations have been slower, and Foster has 230 families on her list, double the number from last year. Without the extra donations, the agency has had to rely on a $1,300 budget to serve more families.
The supermarket gift cards Foster mailed out yesterday were worth $10 and went to 130 families. Last year, when the nonprofit had more donations, she was able to give shopping certificates worth $40 and $50, especially to families with five or more children.
"Either you thin the soup or cut the line," Foster said. "I feel it's better to reduce the amount of assistance and try to help more families."