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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010 02:02 am

From the heart

Nonprofits ask their community for a helping hand

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Volunteers prepare dinner for residents at Inner City Mission, a homeless shelter with a Christian focus.
PHOTO COURTESY INNER CITY MISSION

Give what’s in your heart. It’s a phrase that, when applied in the figurative sense, precisely summarizes what most social service agencies ask of their donors, hoping that in those hearts is the generosity to donate precious commodities – time, money, supplies, tools and more.

For the Central Illinois Community Blood Center, which offers the phrase to every person who dials its phone number, the words are part literal, a poetic way to ask community members to, please, give blood. It could be the gift of life for a neighbor or friend, and the need only increases as the holidays approach.

“Around this time of year, we typically see a decrease in donations and an increase in need,” says Anna McFarland, marketing coordinator with CICBC. “It’s just a busy time for people; they’re out busy doing holiday things, increased vacation, or they have colds and illness.”

During this season of giving, Illinois Times asks Springfield-area nonprofits to tell us what they need from donors. The result is our annual compilation of “wish lists,” published here to give generous IT readers a guide for their gifts big and small. Like CICBC, many organizations’ first requests are for human capital – volunteers make their work possible.

Such is the case at Grace Lutheran Food Pantry. “People resources is our challenge right now. A couple of the guys who really made that thing run are just too old to do it anymore,” says Pastor Tom Christell. “Our food pantry, from the ground up, is totally volunteers,” he says, explaining that the work generous souls put in last month helped feed more than 1,300 people, 560 of them children. Many of the food pantry’s volunteers are retired, so the organization sometimes struggles when the snowbirds among them head south for the winter, he says.

Christell adds that the food pantry can also always use extra items, including soap, donations of which are down right now.

Lindy Seltzer lists similar supplies as items donors often don’t think about, despite a great need for them. As chair of the Springfield Jewish Community Relations Council, Seltzer is trying to raise awareness through her organization’s Let Us Shine project, more information about which can be obtain by e-mailing lwseltzer@comcast.net. First organized last month, the project highlights the fact that welfare recipients can’t purchase personal care items with the Illinois LINK card and encourages organizations holding food drives for the Central Illinois Foodbank to request donations of such items. “Those are everyday needs to have somebody feel in any way self-confident about themselves,” Seltzer says.

Catholic Charities community services coordinator Carol Harms credits volunteers for the success of her organization’s programs, including St. John’s Breadline and Holy Family Food Pantry, as well as for increased donations this year. “The people who are coming every day, giving their time to serve our community, they see that need. They’re a big part of getting the word out for our organization,” Harms says of about 300 regular volunteers. Although monetary donations are up this year, Catholic Charities is still operating with a deficit budget, Harms says.

Harms adds that she’s grateful for all of those who give up their holiday to work the breadline, but adds that volunteers are often scarce during the days right after the holidays as well as through the summer. “The idea is to kind of keep us in mind throughout the year,” she says.

Little Angels Child Care Center, which provides care for low-income children, hasn’t seen the same increase in donations as Catholic Charities, says director Pamara Hodge. Right now, the nonprofit provides day care for 25 children ranging in age from 7 months to 5 years old. “We used to have people come in and donate clothes and little things, but we haven’t had any of that, not this year at all actually,” Hodge says, blaming the economy.

Kathleen Heyworth, director of the Mini O’Beirne Crisis Nursery, echoes Hodge’s struggles to secure monetary donations. The crisis nursery provides free emergency and temporary care 24 hours a day as a way to curb child abuse and neglect. Most of the organization’s clients are single mothers living at or below the poverty level. “We never know from day to day or hour to hour who’s going to be here,” Heyworth says.

About 34 percent of the crisis nursery’s budget comes from community members’ donations. Donations of supplies, such as formula and diapers, help relieve the organization’s operating budget. The crisis nursery also relies on volunteers to keep it running, whether they spend time nurturing children or raking leaves. Heyworth is also seeking more volunteers to run its children’s holiday store, which is open through Dec. 23 and requires about 700 volunteers to run smoothly.

At Inner City Mission, where 35 homeless people are now learning to build relationships and take on more life responsibilities, needs range from a new roof to canned goods. “We have a large giving group, so some people might be builders. For them to do a roof would be like somebody else to grocery shop. If we have a need we put it out there,” says Jerry Johnson, a shelter supervisor at Inner City Mission.

He says donations to the mission are about on par with last year, which he credits to continued communication of what the mission needs and how its clients are progressing. Through the organization’s two websites, a Facebook page and a regular newsletter, community members learn how families served by the mission are doing. “We’ll point you to any one of those things to say ‘This is the pulse of what we’re doing.’ In this way you can stay attached and learn how Rita is doing and how Angela is doing. They become a part of the family with the community.”

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

Click Here for the Wish Lists of local charities.

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