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US Charities Face Deficit During Holiday Season

The December holiday season in the United States is traditionally a time that many people give money to charities, but with the economic downturn in the US, surveys show that Americans are less likely to give to charities this year. The Salvation Army says that while donations are decreasing, the need for charitable services is going up.

Lanny Green rings a bell to collect money for the Salvation Army outside a grocery store in Arlington, Virginia
Lanny Green rings a bell to collect money for the Salvation Army outside a grocery store in Arlington, Virginia

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Deborah Block

Lanny Green stands outside this grocery store in Arlington, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.  He rings this bell to collect money for the Salvation Army, a worldwide charitable Christian organization.  The money is used to help needy people in the local community. 

"I'm proud to do it and I feel like I'm doing something good," he said.

Green has no job and is living in a shelter.  Many bell ringers are volunteers but others, like Green, work for a small hourly wage.

"I was looking for work and then I found the Salvation Army, and I decided I wanted to work with them, and volunteer to try to help somebody else while helping myself," he added.

Many Americans say they will still contribute something to charity during the holiday season.  But a poll, commissioned by the American Red Cross, indicates 20 percent of Americans plan to reduce their charitable contributions.  Green says some people apologize for not putting money into the red kettle.

"I've had a couple of them tell me they're out of work right now, and normally they give money to the Salvation Army, but right now they just don't have it," he noted.  "And some [people] put in pennies, and I say, 'It's not how much you give. It's that you are giving it out of the bottom of your heart.'"

Salvation Army spokesman George Hood says the demand for charitable services has grown substantially.

"People who are our traditional donors, many have become our clients. And people who are giving have endured this very difficult 12 month period and so giving is down," he explained.

The Salvation Army also has other programs to help those in need, including shops like this one in Virginia.  Donated items are sold to help support an adult rehabilitation center in Virginia. 

Eritrean Hiwan Mogas says she often comes to the store.

"The price is less for me.  Good shopping here," she said.

Mike Vincent is head of the rehabilitation center.  He says people are donating clothing to the shop, but they are keeping expensive household goods.

"Furniture sales have been down at least 20 percent and the reason for that is people are holding onto their furniture items due to tough economic times for them," he noted.

The Salvation Army also helps poor people pay their utility bills.

"Our greatest fear right now is that if we don't raise the same level of money that we did a year ago, knowing that we have to help more people in January and February when the brunt of the winter begins to take hold and hits, we're going to be really pressed to keep the utilities bills paid and the heat on in many, many homes," added George Hood.

But there is good news in the future for the Salvation Army and other charities.  A survey by Harris Interactive, a public opinion research firm, found that nearly 75 percent of Americans plan to increase their charitable giving once the economy improves.

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