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Volunteerism up, donations down for many local organizations

November 25, 2009
LAKES REGION — As needs of residents continue to rise, volunteerism has risen in stride, though many nonprofit and charitable organizations are having a harder time getting donations.

There are a number of services offered by churches and volunteer organizations ranging from meals to clothing and holiday toys and gifts. As the winter weather and the holidays approach these organizations are seeing increased demands. Some are scrambling in hopes of being able to handle the requests for assistance. In Sanbornton, volunteers for the food pantry are on the rise, but food and monetary donations are not all they could be.

"People are very willing to give of the one thing they can give freely - their time," reported Sanbornton Welfare Director Melanie VanTassel.

Belmont's Senior Center has seen no problem in meeting their requirements for volunteers either. Director Brenda Fortier praises a consistent group of people she knows she can always count on. Donations, she said, have fortunately remained constant at the center, too.

"Anytime we ask for food, toys or whatever, everyone here comes through for us," Fortier said.

The donations are sent to local nonprofit organizations to assist families and seniors.

Pines Community Center has also seen people stepping up to assist in programs they offer to Northfield and Tilton. In just the past few weeks, Katie Duffey reported that four individuals have offered to help with craft programs and activities. Their service will give local children an opportunity to have some place to go to enjoy creativity and social interaction in a constructive environment.

"In a time of need, people come forward. We're definitely fortunate in that aspect," she said.

Campership donations are still needed however to help pay for children who cannot otherwise attend camps and sports programs.

For Thanksgiving food donations, some churches felt they struggled more this year to get necessary items to prepare meals or holiday dinner boxes to be delivered to homes. Sandy Flanagan has been heading up an annual free Thanksgiving Day dinner at Tilton-Northfield Congregational Church for the past five years and this year, a week before the holiday, she was anxious about having enough food. In past years, she said, she would have 10-12 turkeys donated for the meal in well in advance. This year she only had six turkeys a week before Thanksgiving and even her volunteer list was behind that of years past. She was hopeful that donations and volunteers would still come in but that people were just waiting until the day got a little closer.

"I definitely am seeing an impact due to the economy though," Flanagan said.

Times are tough for everyone, she conceded, and perhaps that is effecting donations.

VanTassel agreed that giving money is tougher this year but that a little bit can go a long way. Even a $1 donation can mean a lot.

"Imagine if every person was able to give just a dollar," she said.

In Sanbornton alone that could translate into more than $3,000.

Another concern VanTassel has is obtaining funding for teens in the area who, after the age of 14, fall off the rosters of most programs that supply Christmas gifts and warm coats. These children, she said, still need to be served, and certainly deserve a warm coat to wear.

"I haven't lost hope though. A lot of people aren't thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving," she said.

She and Northfield Welfare Administrator Sharon Stephen said they are seeing many people in need of assistance with utilities and housing expenses. Stephen said there are programs out there to help meet many of those needs and she does her best to help residents make their mortgage payments and receive assistance with heat.

Help with costly medications is a expense she will be watching. Stephen said last year Northfield got many requests to help by prescriptions later on in the winter when residents just couldn't keep up with costs any longer after paying for heat and other winter expenses. A

t the moment, however, requests for help are on par with last year. For clothing and other need for children she is grateful to have a resource like the Preston Center on the ground floor of the Pines Community Center where she can send people to get clothing, toys, diapers and other items for their children.

The United Way of the Lakes Region is also seeing people volunteering on a higher level this year. Judi Taggart, campaign director, said that the 2009 Day of Caring saw the largest group of volunteers come out to assist local nonprofit organizations cross projects off their lists of things to be done. There are three calls to action in tough economic times, Taggart said: volunteering, advocacy for those in need, and giving.

"People can give in many ways," she said. "Either time or money can go a long way in helping others."

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Town of Alexandria
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