Since the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Americans have donated more than a billion dollars to various relief agencies to help victims' families and with local recovery efforts. Some social service agencies are wondering if this could mean fewer people will donate to them this year.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository sends groceries to more than 600 local pantries and organizations to feed about 300,000 people a month. It has just begun its biggest fundraising appeal of the year. Depository spokeswoman Barbara Whicker predicts people might be pickier this year when writing charitable checks, "and they are really going to look for places where they know it is going to make a significance in people's lives," she adds.
Social service groups large and small say they're waiting to see whether the unprecedented level of donations to terrorist attack relief funds will hurt their fundraising campaigns this year. The non-profit coalition Independent Sector just released a survey suggesting about three quarters of those who have given to relief funds still plan to give to other charities this year. Peter Schiras is an Independent Sector vice president. "People, by and large, said that the giving they had made in response to September 11th, by and large would not affect their future giving. People really saw that giving as over and above their normal giving," he says.
But there's another factor potentially working against local charities this year - the slumping U.S. economy. About half of those responding to the Independent Sector survey said the economic slowdown would force them to give less or nothing to charities this year. That's little surprise to Jim Kales, a spokesman for the United Way in Chicago. "There have been, even prior to September 11, thousands of layoffs in the Chicago area and that has really accelerated since September 11," he says.
United Way distributes charitable gifts to more than 400 social service groups in the Chicago area, including the Onward Neighborhood House. Director Ramiro Marquez expects the economy will hurt his budget this year. "I think some people, certainly, they have 'x' amount of dollars that they have designated for charitable causes, and if they are going based on that, then certainly it is going to affect us," he says.
Mr. Marquez says economic slowdowns present a two-sided problem: donations tend to decline at the same time demand for help increases.
One other effect of the September 11th attacks seems to be in the area of volunteering. The Independent Sector Survey says in addition to giving money, many Americans gave their time - even to groups unrelated to relief in New York or Washington, DC. Jim Kales of the United Way says his organization's new web site in Chicago has been visited more than 25,000 times in the last month. "People really want to do something. They really want to come together and unite," he said. "Rather than just sitting at home and watching the news and getting depressed about anthrax, [we suggest you] reach out to your neighbor, volunteer to mentor a kid, volunteer to help out senior citizens, volunteer to help disabled folks in your community."
Mr. Kales says it appears for many people, volunteering gives them a chance to work out their anxieties over the aftermath of September 11.