Fayette County

Charities struggle as holiday deadline nears

Alisha Bilyeu, left, of Lexington, put money in the Salvation Army kettle manned by bell ringer Eric Webb, right, on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Hamburg's Wal-Mart Supercenter  in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
Alisha Bilyeu, left, of Lexington, put money in the Salvation Army kettle manned by bell ringer Eric Webb, right, on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at Hamburg's Wal-Mart Supercenter in Lexington, Ky. Photo by David Perry | Staff HERALD-LEADER

Some Lexington charities are battling both the clock and the shaky economy in an effort to meet their holiday goals.

The Salvation Army raised $278,435 in its kettle campaign as of Dec. 17, more than $70,000 less than what it had raised at this time in 2010 and a little more than $170,000 short of its $450,000 goal. The kettle campaign ends Dec. 24.

The Catholic Action Center is still seeking donations for its Christmas store, to be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And God's Pantry is struggling to serve an increasing number of families who need help with basic food items.

The Salvation Army's red kettles are placed in high-traffic shopping areas, but Major Debra Ashcraft, an area coordinator for the group, said a weak economy and an increase in online shopping might have led to fewer shoppers breaking out a cash donation for the kettles.

Foot traffic needs to be teamed with good weather and consumers carrying ample cash in their pockets to ensure maximum donations, she said. This year, the weather has often been soggy, and the surge in debit card use in stores indicates that consumers have less cash in their pockets available for an on-the-spot charitable donation, she said.

"I think people are fearful of the economy," Ashcraft said. "I don't think they have hardened hearts."

Earlier in December, The Salvation Army sought help for its Angel Tree program after 981 needy children's gift cards had not been picked up just before the deadline for that 6,000-child program — a need that was ultimately met, Ashcraft said.

In the same vein, the Catholic Action Center is seeking additional items for its Christmas Store, to be housed in an upscale private garage at the corner of Second Street and Midland Avenue and in a nearby commercial building.

"It always seems like an overwhelming amount but, by the time we've had 3,200 people shop, it's all gone," said Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center.

The group also is looking for volunteers for shifts from 8 a.m. to noon and 4 to 8 p.m. on Thursday and all day Friday. Christmas trees and wreaths also will be distributed, Ramsey said.

The store, which is free and offers refreshments and gift wrapping, needs items for boys 9 to 12 years old, bicycles and all kinds of items for teenagers, Ramsey said. That would include anything as varied as sports equipment, T-shirts and hoodies, and "pre-loved, gently used clothes" that are in style.

Coats and blankets are always needed, she said.

At God's Pantry, donations are flat, but the number of people asking for assistance has been surging, said Mandy Brajuha, a spokeswoman for God's Pantry in Lexington.

"Our demand for service has gone up so significantly this year, so we're considering ourselves in a pinch right now," she said. "All of our pantry shelters and kitchens we work with are seeing an increase. While charitable giving has been good, it has not been keeping up with the demand for service."

In August, the food bank's five emergency food pantries in Lexington served more than 2,100 families, which Brajuha said was the highest total since the organization opened in 1955.

The food bank distributes to a network of 275 member programs in 50 counties in Central Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.

The pantry particularly needs protein-rich items such as canned meat and peanut butter, but fruits and breakfast items also are needed. Brajuha said the food bank can leverage donations to maximum effect because it buys so much food in bulk.

"We're buying by the truckload, not by the can," Brajuha said.

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