Local charities hurt by September 11th aftermath

by Mike Kroll

The terrorist attacks on September 11th have had ramifications far beyond anything remotely imaginable by their planners. They inadvertently unified this nation as few other events have done and touched the hearts and consciences of Americans everywhere.

But as millions upon millions of dollars in assistance makes it way to New York and Washington, many local charities are quietly facing a bleak prognosis for their own fund raising.

Two local organizations that stand to come up short of the necessary funds to complete their missions are the Western Illinois Chapter of the Red Cross and the United Way of Knox County. The staffs of both agencies have gladly participated in funneling assistance to the east coast but now fear that available local resources will be insufficient to meet area needs.

''This is a frightening situation and every non-profit I talk to is running into the same problems raising money,'' explains Jane Butler, executive director of the United Way. ''Even before September 11th it was becoming clear that this would be a tough campaign because of the economy. Donors who typically gave $50-100 in recent years are now offering $5-10. The selflessness of so many who have made designated donations to recovery operations in New York or Washington is to be commended but we cannot blind ourselves to the day-to-day needs of many local agencies.''

''We're in the disaster business!'' said Lynne Tyler of the Red Cross. ''Locally our chapter sent two nurses as disaster volunteers to New York and four other volunteers to assist stranded passengers at O'Hare Airport in Chicago when the planes were grounded. We always ask donors how they'd like us to use their money and always accede to those wishes. We are happy to assist in any way we can wherever we are needed but it is important to remember that there are plenty of local disasters of much smaller scale that we must continue to respond to.''

The United Way collects and distribute funds to a myriad of local agencies. Before each annual fall fundraising drive, United Way volunteers sift through agency requests to determine which programs merit support and how much is needed. The resulting allotments are totaled to arrive at the year's campaign goal. ''This year's goal is $750,000,'' according to Butler. ''Right now we are afraid that we will fall well short of that goal, perhaps attaining only 75-80 percent. That will force my board to make some very hard decisions and invariably lead to worthy needs unmet.''

Tyler explains, ''It may seem hard to believe but the Galesburg area is a disaster-prone area. Year after year, we see a wide array of local disasters ranging from families losing their homes through fire to nature's wrath in the form of tornados and floods. Our most valuable resource is the large group of volunteers that really are the Red Cross but we still need money to function. Before September 11th we were extremely busy and now we have been forced to ask for even more from our volunteers and supporters.''

Locally both the Red Cross and United Way have served as conduits for donations headed to New York or Washington and this has not only meant that less seems to be left for local needs but also that much time and effort had to be dedicated toward processing those designated gifts. The local United Way campaign was supposed to step off on September 12th and that was delayed.

''We delayed our campaign kickoff for three weeks and many of our corporate partners engaged in their own support for victims in New York and Washington further delaying the campaign,'' noted Butler. ''At this point, pledges are at about 27 percent of our goal and we are trying to be as creative as possible to attract the funds we need to meet this year's goal.''

''On a promising note, Marquette Bank employees have become the first ever to reach 100 percent participation. One key change we are noting is a substantial decrease in donations via payroll deduction if favor of one-time donations. Apparently many people are concerned about their financial future and reluctant to make a continuing commitment,'' continued Butler. Using words that harken to imagery from World War II, Butler points out, ''We need to encourage people not to forget the very real needs right here on the home front.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 25, 2001

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