Janesville67.2°

Janesville area nonprofits waiting for things to turn around

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
January 3, 2012
— Call it a tale of two cities.

In Milwaukee, a recent Public Policy Forum survey indicates that most nonprofits feel they’ve weathered the storm of increased need and are starting to feel that the worst is behind them.


Locally, however, the song remains the same.


In Janesville, a lack of funds forced ECHO to cut all transportation and some lodging services in the last three months of 2011. Likewise, officials at the Janesville Salvation Army say they provided more Christmas assistance in 2011 than in any of the previous five years.


“We served an estimated 15 percent more households in 2011 over 2010,’’ said Karen Lisser, executive director of the faith-sponsored charity Everyone Cooperating to Help Others (ECHO). “The need hasn’t gotten better. It’s definitely increased.”


Maj. Bob Fay said the Janesville Salvation Army also has seen an increase in the need for assistance. In addition, he says the organization is working with many more first-time seekers of help.


Still, Fay is confident there is light at the end of this lingering economic downturn tunnel.


“I think we are kind of over a hump as far as the real crisis.” he said. “Now it’s more long-term. How do we work through this and climb out back on top?’’


While ECHO begins 2012 more than $60,000 behind in funding it held in savings a year ago, Lisser wonders how long this recession can last.


“It seems like it’s got to end, but we’re starting (2012) off (financially) behind, so that makes it difficult,’’ she said.


Fay is encouraged by the generosity of the community after learning Friday that the Salvation Army’s Christmas fundraising campaign exceeded its $325,000 goal.


“I have always said if we are faithful in doing what needs to be done, it’s the Lord that controls the resources. He blesses and makes available whatever we need,” Fay said.


ECHO hasn’t been so fortunate. The organization had to take out a bank loan for cash flow to get through the tough part of this year—starting early fall, Lisser said.


“That’s a tough time as far as when donations slow,’’ she said.


Eighty percent of ECHO’s operating dollars come from community donations and 20 percent comes from grants for rent assistance.


Among Salvation Army services are its free hot lunch program, food pantry, lodging, Christmas assistance and transportation.


Fay said the number of people who ate at the hot lunch program peaked at 16,785 in 2008, while those using its food pantry hit a five-year high in 2010. He attributed that increase to the addition made to the food pantry three years ago.


“Even at that the numbers certainly have gone up,’’ he said.


Bus tokens the Salvation Army provided to those in need spiked at 453 in 2009 and 629 in 2010, compared to consistent numbers from 2006-08.


“Whatever the reason, there certainly was an increase for public transportation assistance,” Fay said.


Christmas assistance also has increased at the Salvation Army from 2006, when 407 households sought help, through 2011, when more than 500 families received assistance, he said.


Fay said the Salvation Army most likely would continue to see peaks and valleys in the services it provides as people figure out how to make ends meet.


Meanwhile, “We will do what we can to help them through difficult times,” he said.


The positive trend, Fay said, comes in the face of the loss of General Motors, which he says has not decimated the community or the local economy.


“It just presents some challenges as people struggle how to find how to make ends meet. The call is just to continue to be flexible and available to meet the needs as they change,” he said.


Fay also believes 2012 will be an improvement on recent years.


“I think it will be, and am hoping it will be just because I’m the eternal optimist.”


Lisser agrees.


“I’m pretty hopeful,” she said. “This has gone on for so long now; I think it’s got to change. I don’t think need will decrease, but I don’t think we’ll see the increase in numbers like we did the last three or four years.”



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