America's national safety net of social services is a curious public/private mix supporting the most vulnerable people in our society. It has been clearly pointed out to us this fall that in our current economic crisis, the government will have to be doing less because the dollars are not there. According to the Council of Nonprofits, because the congress has failed to act to reduce the deficit, $54.6 Billion will be chopped from domestic programs. This includes $600 million from Head Start, $140 million in financial aid to college students, $2 billion from rental assistance programs and $600 million for disaster relief and block grant funding for health and human services. They also posit that special education will be cut by $1 billion, child care and development cut by $187 Million and food for women, infants and children (WIC program) will be cut by $543 million. America is very lucky that in just about every community, there are nonprofits there to help catch us as we fall, although these government cuts will certainly be more than they can handle.
Let's take a look at a few of the nonprofit safety nets that are out there today to help. The Salvation Army, recently profiled in TIME magazine, is the second largest charity in America (The United Way is number 1). It is headquartered in London and TIME reports it was started in 1865 in the United Kingdom. The first U.S. chapter opened in 1880 and a San Francisco Salvation Army captain started the first kettle fundraising drive in 1891, which went national by 1897. There are now nearly 8,000 Salvation Army locations and more than 4.5 million volunteers assisting 32 million people each year. Worldwide, the charity operates in 125 countries in 175 different languages. They operate over 1,300 thrift stores in the U.S. and support causes for disaster relief, soup kitchens, drug and alcohol counseling, camps, community centers and homeless shelters. Another community nonprofit safety net is Goodwill, which was founded in 1902 in Boston, where they began to collect used household goods and clothing in the wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired those who were poor to mend and repair the used goods, which were then resold or given to the people who repaired them. Goodwill has turned into a $4 billion nonprofit organization operating a network of 165 independent community-based organizations in the U.S., Canada and 14 other countries. They provide employment, training and support services to 4.2 Million individuals.
The Association for Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) was founded in New York City in 1913 to provide emergency shelter, food, youth and family services, education and job training programs, rehabilitation programs, assistance to the elderly poor and assistance to at risk youth. AGRM has a network of 275 rescue missions providing 43 million meals and 26 million nights of lodging with 300,000 volunteers. Toys for Tots began in 1947 in Los Angeles and then expanded nationwide. They have provided 351 million toys to 166 million needy children and conduct local campaigns in 516 communities. And on and on, I could list charity after charity that steps in when the government does not.
Using North Carolina (NC) as a microcosm of what is happening in the U.S. today, the Wilmington Star News reported this October that nonprofits have seen huge cuts in government support, including agencies that help seniors, children and the mentally ill and organizations that oppose domestic violence -- all have drastic cuts. One-third of NC nonprofits cut services. In NC, nonprofits create 450,000 jobs, which is a tenth of all state jobs, equal to the employment in retail. Nonprofits in NC pay $13 Billion in wages. Add on to this the planned government cuts at the end of this year and a state like NC will be reeling in cutbacks to those who need it most. I don't know how our big charities can step up any more than they are doing now to pick up the pieces.
In this election year, the Social Science Research Network published a report comparing the charitable giving based on your political affiliation. They concluded that conservatives and liberals are equally generous in their donation habits. They then showed that while levels of giving were roughly equivalent, liberals are much more likely to donate to secular organizations while conservatives are more likely to donate to religious causes. Their final conclusion was that charitable contributions fluctuate based on the political landscape. Democrats (Republicans) donate less money when a Republican (Democrat) occupies the White House.
We all know that the most vulnerable part of our society is going to be in real trouble for the next several years as we struggle to get this economy back on track. This is the season where the rest of us have got to pitch in and support those fine organizations that are creating the safety net, while our government gets its act together. Get interested in the Salvation Army. Get interested in Goodwill. Get interested in Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. Get interested in to Toys for Tots. Or go to DollarDays November promotion on Facebook that is taking nominations for nonprofit organizations to share in the $5,000 of products to support your local nonprofit. The designer Marc Gold is also giving away 100 cases of toys to 100 Toys for Tots organizations on the DollarDays site, so nominate your local Toys for Tots directly on this site.
It does not matter if you are a Democrat or Republican or Independent. We are all obligated to help the less fortunate in our community. If you can't help out with cash or donated clothing, help out by becoming one of the volunteers that ring the bell or sorts the toys. We, as human beings, who have compassion and humanity taught to us from the beginning of life, can make a difference for those less fortunate.