Local nonprofits ride out the storm

While some United Way chapters across the country scramble for funding as they battle the economic downturn, generous donors keep United Way of Lexington-Rockbridge County safe and financially sound.

 “Just about every cent that we get is from donations from people in the community,” Executive Director David Dax said. “Right now we’re doing unusually well for this time of year.”

 The local United Way raises money for 13 agencies that serve people in the Rockbridge area. Those agencies include the food pantry, Rockbridge Area Transportation Services (RATS) and the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic.

Dax says there’s no clear reason the organization has already raised almost half of the $250,000 goal for this year’s campaign. He said the traditionally supportive community and people’s sense of humanity account for the campaign’s success.

“Even with all those awful things that have been happening in the economy lately people have been unbelievably generous, and rapidly so,” Dax said.

The Giving USA Foundation recently released a report saying that during the last recession, in 2001, charitable donations dropped 2.2 percent. Giving remained flat during the recession of 1982 and dropped 5.4 percent during a downturn in 1974. A recession has not been declared for 2008, but nonprofit organizations might face more significant losses this time around.

Across the country, other United Way chapters have had to rethink the distribution of money, which is already stretched thin. The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, has been forced to deny aid to some nonprofit organizations, and to focus its efforts only on agencies that provide education programs, financial support for families and health services for the elderly.

But Dax says the local United Way won’t undergo a makeover anytime soon. This year the organization gave its agencies all the money it had promised, and Dax is optimistic about next year’s outcome. He credits that success to his agency’s fundraising efforts.      

The campaign starts in late August and ends in February. The local United Way sends out letters and brochures to city and county residents, asking for financial assistance. But Dax says 80 percent of donations are collected from members of the Generals’ Club, which is composed of community members who pledge to donate large sums annually.

Despite financial hardship, Dax says, most of these big donors are giving the same amount this year, and some have even pledged to give more.

“For the people who have wealth in the community, for them to share it as openly as they have, I’m just exceedingly grateful,” Dax said.  

The Rockbridge Area Relief Association (RARA) is one of the agencies under the local United Way’s umbrella. RARA provides emergency aid, including utilities, rent, shelter and food. United Way money pays nearly 60 percent of direct assistance and 40 percent to RARA’s Food Pantry in Lexington.

But despite a recent increase in the number of requests for food and rent money by local families, the agency has been able to hold its own through help from the community.

“We never have enough funds to meet our needs,” Projects Manager Barbara Kennedy said. “But Rockbridge County is just great; they have always come through for us.”

With the holiday season approaching, organizations are bracing for bleak months ahead, with demands for fuel money kicking in around that time, according to Kennedy. RARA has also already used up all of its rent and housing funds for 2008. Dax said that last year around Christmas time, after some bad economic news came out, donations stopped coming in and the local United Way failed to meet its goal of $250,000.

There is one United Way agency that is ready for the holidays. The Campus Kitchens Project at Washington and Lee prepares meals for individuals and groups in the county from food donated by W&L Dining Services. Project Coordinator Jenny Sproul says food has been plentiful and Campus Kitchens has the financial resources to make it through the rest of this year, delivering food to the needy in the area.

“Since we are not struggling to find enough food currently, I cannot imagine it will be more stressful for the holiday season, when people are feeling more generous,” Sproul said. 





W&LProduced by
Washington and Lee
journalism students.

Lead Supervisors:
Prof. Brian Richardson
Prof. Indira Somani

Editing supervisor:
Prof. Pamela Luecke

Reporting Supervisors:
Prof. Doug Cumming
Prof. Indira Somani

Technical supervisor: Michael Todd