Marilyn Williams, a Salvation Army Kettle Campaign volunteer, stands outside the Winn-Dixie on Old Dawson Road collecting donations a few days before Christmas. Area non-profit agencies, including the Salvation Army, often see an increase in giving during the holidays. (Staff Photo: Jennifer Parks)
ALBANY — Some of the area non-profits in Albany, as many do in any community, encounter a number of generous donors during the holiday season. This one has been no exception.
Gunnery Sgt. Earnest Thompson, coordinator for the area’s Toys for Tots campaign, said that collections this year met the organizers’ goal and then some.
“Everyone we had to distribute to was taken care of,” he said.
Last week, with the primary distribution to families already behind them, those involved with the drive were still making collections for late requests. In all, there were approximately 17,000 toys collected — which exceeded the goal of 15,000-16,000 donations — to meet the needs of 2,000 children up to 12 years of age who otherwise might have had nothing under their Christmas tree.
In terms of monetary donations, Thompson said, there was about $5,000 collected. At the same time, there was an increase in the number of drop-off locations, with 40 more boxes set up within the campaign’s six-county area of Dougherty, Worth, Colquitt, Thomas, Sumter and Terrell.
Last year, donations slowed until just before it was time to distribute the toys. The flow was steady throughout this season, Thompson said.
“Without the generosity of the community, we couldn’t do this,” the gunnery sergeant said. “It is only possible with the generosity of the community. They make it possible, not us.
“We want to thank the community for all their support. (With out it, these children would) wake up on Christmas without anything to open.”
Maj. Kelly English, with the Salvation Army on West Second Avenue, said he felt like he did not have a reason to complain about how the community responded. From the annual kettle campaign, there was about $65,000 raised — putting the organization on track with the goal from last year while taking in change from donors at 12 locations.
The pressure was higher this year with the kettle campaign being a week shorter than normal because of the late Thanksgiving holiday, he said. Thanksgiving was on Nov. 28, the latest date possible.
“Our kick off was Nov. 22, but we are still limited in our locations,” English said. “We still feel (the pressure).”
Meanwhile, the Salvation Army put out appeals, the results of which were still being totaled the week before Christmas. At the same time, food donations at the agency were slightly higher, with a number of schools bringing in more boxes to help offset expenses at the shelter during the winter months.
“We are happy about that,” English said of the food donations. “We’ve got warehouses with stacks and stacks of boxes. That is beautiful to see.”
GraceWay Recovery Residence, a substance abuse recovery center for women, also opens its mailbox during the holidays to see an increase in giving that it might not see during other times of the year, although some seasons are better than others.
“This year (during the holidays) it has been less than in prior years, but we understand how the economy is,” said Liz Dixon, the executive director at GraceWay. “That is why we are so grateful” for what is donated.
“We really change lives generationally,” she said. “We are a little gem in Albany. We need help because we don’t have national sponsors. … We are doing our very best, and we are here a decade later.
“We welcome help not just during the holidays, but all year.”
With the facility being a long-term one, the needs of GraceWay are somewhat different than that of a shelter, but it still gets some of the same donations many shelters do. For the eighth year in a row, a group of students from Westover High School recently dropped off a collection of canned goods, which will go to offset some expenses.
“We won’t have to buy canned goods (for a long time),” Dixon said. “It is highly encouraging that young people get it.
” … That is our main source of canned goods” this time of year.
In all, the high school contributed 1,986 cans this year, the executive director said.
Over the last few weeks, about 20 percent of the agency’s operating budget has been raised through donations — often coming from those donating in honor or memory of someone, or in lieu of a Christmas gift. Recently, GraceWay’s website — www.gracewayrecovery.com — added a Paypal component as an avenue for people to give.
“We are grateful for every $10 check. It all adds up,” Dixon said. “… It’s not the amount of the donation (that matters), it is the love attached to that donation.
“We haven’t had the number of fundraisers we usually have. We were hoping in lieu of fundraisers (there would be an increase in donations) so that every penny could go to operating expenses. We still have faith people will still make holiday gifts.”
At the Albany Rescue Mission, the recent festivities included a holiday event in which roughly 80 gifts were distributed primarily coming from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supplies on Westover Boulevard.
In terms of monetary donations, activity picked up even though there was a smaller number of mail outs.
“We had 5,000 letters go out to those not on our mailing list, and we got more than we did when we sent out 10,000 last year,” said Larry Hample, the organization’s director.
While the totals have not been completed yet, the preliminary estimates for the season are more than $25,000, which, among other expenses, goes toward overhead costs.
“Most of it is raised between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Hample said. “If we don’t bring in the high amount then (we struggle when it slows). We have to roll on that for the rest of the year.
“… We got down below $5,000 in our account (before the holiday season). We worked our way up, so we have some breathing space into the new year.”
There were also increases in food donations in recent weeks, which helps to go toward the 7,000 meals a month fed at the mission. A nearby Winn-Dixie helped raise about 6,000 pounds in food, and the First Free Will Baptist Church on Westover contributed about 100 bags of food, which is comparative to the number of food donations the organization sees this time of year.
“It is an ongoing thing because we give out so much food,” Hample said. “We put in the newsletter that we are always in need of non-perishable food items. (We now) have enough through the first of the year.”
In the meantime, Hample said, the agency is looking to pick up new people into its donor base.
“So far, we have done good (in terms of recent giving),” he said. “Even though this is the festive time, it is a sad time for some of the people here. Hopefully we will get through Christmas and New Year’s.”