by Phil Yacuboski
With improving job numbers and an improving economy, some local charities are hoping that it transfers to a big boost in holiday giving.
“That would be great,” said Nancy Post with a joyous laugh. “I hope that’s the case if it’s true.”
Post, director of volunteer initiatives of the Voluntary Action Center, which oversees the Christmas Holiday Bureau in Scranton, said all of the money is locally raised. In 2018, they hope to raise $60,000. They typically give out gift cards to families who need them for the holiday season.
“Some of our donors have either died off or may not be in the best financial shape to give. It effects the bottom line. The need grows all of the time, but the donations do not. I think they are pretty stagnant or a little bit more,” she said. There is an income requirement.
While Post said they’ve been able to receive grants from foundations, there’s a lot of competition.
The organization raises money through a letter from past donors and it organizes a happy hour combined with a basket raffle in Scranton.
Giving USA, a philanthropy group that tracks giving across the country, found in 2017 giving reached $410 billion; an increase of more than five percent over the previous year and the first time giving topped more than $400. The report found giving to religious organizations is most popular, followed by education and human services.
“We’re really not sure what it’s going to bring,” said Mike Hanley, CEO of United Neighborhood Centers in Scranton. “More people certainly are working, but a lot of them are working at jobs that don’t pay very much.”
Hanley said they are seeing working families coming to them for help. The nonprofit distributes food year-round as well as household goods for struggling families. It also has programs for rental assistance and help for people who can’t pay utility bills. Hanley said in some cases they will buy boots for someone who needs them for their first job or put a tank of gas in their car before they get a paycheck.
“We are anticipating that we are going to have a lot more working families coming to us over the holidays,” he said.
Hanley said in the past, they’ve received donations from people who have received assistance.
“They’ve been able to pull themselves up,” he said, “and they want to give back. It’s heartening to see that, especially around the holidays.”
Hanley said donations in previous years have been ‘steady’ and there have been no large jumps. He said companies have often sponsored employee giving and often will match donations.
Major Bob Schmig of The Salvation Army in Scranton said despite what the economy is doing, it’s difficult to tell from year-to-year.
“In my experience, a lot of the giving is done in the more difficult times,” he said. “I think people recognize that people are in need.”
Schmig said the kettle campaign, an iconic part of the holiday season for decades, will again be in full swing, but they are always looking for volunteers to man the kettles. He said in the Scranton area, they need to take in between $160,000 to $180,000 to keep their budget.
He said the money is used for food box programs, clothing vouchers, help for utilities and some children’s programs. Angel Trees are also popular at places throughout the area where people can sponsor a child (or children) and buy gifts for them for the holiday.
“We are hoping that the economy does work in our favor,” he said. “I’m hoping this year is better than the last. I have lived here long enough to know there are enough caring and concerned people in our community who are willing to step in and partner with us.”