Editorial: Not just a drop in the bucket

These are critical weeks to give to our neighbors in need

Salvation Army bell ringer Alice Brown solicits donations outside of the Belks store in Evans Monday afternoon December 11, 2017 in Augusta. MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF

A friend of ours’ eyes didn’t deceive him when he volunteered at a local soup kitchen recently — and was astonished by the number of hungry children in need.

 

“We’ve had an explosion of children,” says John Sebby, development director at the Augusta-area Salvation Army, which operates a 138-bed homeless shelter at 1384 Greene Street downtown.

“The fastest-growing homeless population in the country is women and children. I think more and more families are on the edge, more and more families are struggling.”

Used to be, Sebby says, the shelter averaged 12 to 15 kids a night, which is heartbreaking enough. Now, though, the number is more like 30. At the soup kitchen, they’re feeding 250-300 people a day.

And while the shelter’s capacity may be 138, most nights they drag out mats for the overflow crowd — which increasingly is women, children and whole families.

Over at Ronald McDonald House — at 1442 Harper St., just a football field or so away from the Children’s Hospital of Georgia — the 23 families aren’t homeless. But that’s because of the Ronald McDonald House, which takes in families of hospitalized children, both inpatient and out, who live more than 25 miles away and would otherwise have to pay for hotel rooms for days, weeks or even months at a time.

Can you imagine fretting over a seriously ill child — and still having to find a place to stay and a way to pay for that and treatment?

“They’re welcome to stay for as long as they need to be here,” says Ronald McDonald House President and CEO Betts Murdison.

Families are free to make donations if they can, Murdison says, but “we never, ever turn a family away for an inability to pay.

“Our goal is to worry about everything else in their lives – so that they can worry about their child.”

Their goal, like the Salvation Army’s, also has to be finding a way to pay for it all. In the case of the Ronald McDonald House, there’s a misconception that the big-hearted chain (which also paid for the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center) takes care of the Ronald McDonald house budget. It does contribute, certainly, as well as Coca-Cola and other key corporate partners, but the vast majority of funding comes from folks like us.

“McDonald’s set it up by design to be supported, grassroots, by the local community,” Murdison explains.

And we’re doing that. But we sure can’t take it for granted — again, especially now, in this season of giving.

“The majority of our funding for the Salvation Army comes in the month of December,” he says. “So December is really going to tell us how much impact we can have in 2018.”

Individual donations to Ronald McDonald House — as with the Salvation Army, tax-deductibe — are “our backbone,” Murdison says. “That’s what keeps us alive. It’s the individuals that take care of us.”

Nor is it just dollars that make the house run. Imagine your household, 23 times over. Smiles Murdison: “We have everything you have in your house, except a lot bigger!”

Agencies such as the Salvation Army and Ronald McDonald House do some of the heavy lifting in human needs in this community, and they’re far from alone. You have a veritable buffet of hardworking nonprofits to help this Christmas season, if that’s in your heart.

If you have a really big plate this holiday, the United Way is your sampler platter of helping. Or second helpings.

The United Way of the CSRA vets, reviews and absolutely hounds 24 “partner” nonprofits to be as efficient, effective and accountable with your gifts as possible. Helping seniors, kids, abused women, alcoholics and addicts and nearly every other human need under the sun, United Way of the CSRA agencies reach some 200,000 of our brothers and sisters in 13 Georgia counties and three in South Carolina.

You want a buffet of helping? This is all you can eat.

While the United Way brand is national, this is a local organization from top to bottom.

“We have a local board of directors,” says United Way President/CEO La Verne H. Gold, “everybody that’s employed at United Way lives within the area, our partner agencies are all in the area, the people that we serve are from the area.”

The United Way depends heavily on December giving too. Its $3.4 million campaign is only about half to goal, and has met with some corporate downsizing in the area, which affects the agency’s biggest source of funds: payroll deductions.

“We need the entire community’s support to make this successful,” says United Way Senior Director of Resource Development Rina Powell, “because if we’re not successful, these agencies that are really relying on the funding to run these programs are not going to get the funding they need.”

Whatever nonprofit warms your heart, remember two things: Their year could be made this month — and your help is a lot more than just a drop in the bucket.

 

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