Nonprofits feel pinch after Sept. 11

Posted: Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Americans and Kenai Peninsula residents alike have been moved to become more giving since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Millions of dollars have poured into various charities, all earmarked to provide aid to the tens of thousands of people directly affected by the attacks.

But the philanthropy toward those in need on the East Coast has taken a bite out of funds dedicated to local causes.

"Oh, we're in a slump," said Kenai Peninsula United Way Director Evy Gebhardt. "In my opinion, and from feedback from the community, contribution levels from local giving are down."

Gebhardt said she's passed several hundred dollars through her office dedicated to the United Way of New York City's September 11th Fund, but local donations are suffering.

The United Way's fund-raising season kicked off about the time of the attacks and runs into the spring.

"It's still very early in the game to give a full picture," she said. "The way the campaign works is that I'm out now actively fund-raising but won't know until the early part of next year how we're doing."

Gebhardt said people already may have given all they can to the funds dedicated to the attacks.

"And look at the marketplace, there's unemployment and we had a poor fishing year," she said. "I think overall giving will be down."

The Kenai Peninsula United Way supports 27 peninsula agencies that provide such varied services as senior citizen meals, family planning, mental health care, crisis intervention, emergency food and shelter.

Debra Holle, director of the American Red Cross office in Soldotna, said most of the donations crossing her desk have been earmarked for the attacks.

"As a matter of fact, we have had only one donation since Sept. 11 that was specifically for the local branch," she said.

The one donation for local services was for $400, Holle said.

"The family came in and handed me the check," she said. "That is a good-sized donation. It was very generous of them and very much appreciated."

She said it is rare they receive checks that large from individuals or families. Usually, the Red Cross would have received at least three times that amount by this time of the year.

She said the Southcentral Alaska Chapter of the Red Cross, which includes the Mat-Su Borough, Municipality of Anchor-age and the Kenai Peninsula Borough, made an appeal for contributions shortly before the attacks, but she is not sure what may have come in.

In addition, for the three weeks after the attacks, which Holle describes as "war crimes," all donations to the Red Cross were directed to the organization's Liberty Fund, which is dedicated to the attack aftermath.

"In a general sense, the donations to the Southcentral Alaska Chapter and the Kenai Peninsula Branch have been down significantly," she said. "Many people may feel they can't give any more right now."

She said the economic downturn nationwide also may be hampering donations.

The money collected for local operations goes toward keeping the Red Cross' one-person operation open, maintaining the emergency shelter kits and providing emergency services to families who may be displaced by fires or other disasters. The average cost of helping a family after a house or apartment fire is about $1,000, Holle said.

If people are interested in donating to the local chapter of the Red Cross, they can designate that their money go to local needs, she said.

Holle added that since the Sept. 11 attacks, there has been an upswing in people interested in taking the disaster response training Red Cross offers. Interest in first aid classes, however, is down. Holle said she could use a volunteer to coordinate all the other Red Cross volunteers. She encouraged people of all ages to volunteer, but especially men, to help with transporting material in emergencies.

Kenai Peninsula Food Bank board president Dayne Clark said monetary donations have been down from mid-September through October over the same time period last year. He thinks it may be from people sending their money to New York City, but he couldn't substantiate that thought.

Demand, however, already was on the upswing before the attacks.

"Service has been up 20 percent in August and September over last year," he said. "October usually takes a dip, because of the permanent fund dividend, but even the numbers for this October were up over last year."

The food bank distributes 2,000 pounds of food a day, enough to feed 300 people. While the food bank appreciates donations of food -- 15,000 pounds a year from individuals -- they also need cash donations to pay for transportation, storage, handling and distribution of the food. Besides donations, the food bank is looking for additional board members, Clark said.

One local nonprofit organization, Pickle Hill Public Broadcast-ing, fared well during its on-air fund drive, which came after the attacks.

KDLL station manager Allen Auxier speculated that the expanded news coverage by National Public Radio and the Alaska Public Radio Network provided a much-needed service to the station's listeners during the crisis.

"Everyone I've talked to said they appreciated the expanded coverage and were glad we provided it for them, and they were very happy to support us," Auxier said. "It translated into one of the best on-air fund-raisers we've had."

The station's goal was $20,000; it raised $27,000.

The station's fund-raiser not only benefited KDLL, but the Women's Resource and Crisis Center, as well. Auxier said that for every donation made by credit card, Safeway in Soldotna donated a can of food to WRCC. The crisis center received 10 cases of food through the program.

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