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Charities feel squeeze

By Heather J. Carlson

hcarlson@postbulletin.com

The economic slowdown is already squeezing the Salvation Army of Olmsted County.

More people are turning to the nonprofit for vouchers that can be used for basic items at its thrift store. Meanwhile, the thrift store set a record for sales last month.

"As this holiday season comes up, we are just anticipating larger and larger groups asking or help," said Jeff Urban, an organization spokesman.

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At the same time, the Salvation Army is concerned donations might be down this holiday season as consumers have less money to give. Those fears have led to the traditional red kettles coming out earlier than usual and some creative efforts — including a restaurant ring-off in Rochester this weekend, where food establishments compete to raise dollars.

The goal is to raise $220,000 to help fund the nonprofit’s mission.

Last year, the local Salvation Army served 13,000 meals, and its social services program helped more than 9,000 people.

"We’re cautiously optimistic. We’re just not sure what is going to happen," Urban said.

With more people seeking help in the sour economy, nonprofits are caught in a potential double whammy: Greater demand and less money.

Needs include:

• At Rochester’s Channel One Food Shelf, the number of households seeking assistance in October was up by more than 750 compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, food donations are down by 1,000 pounds, said executive director Cynthia Shaffer.

• At Interfaith Hospital Network of Greater Rochester, the phone keeps ringing with homeless families looking for shelter. "The last three months we’ve had a waiting list," said executive director Joanne Markee.

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• United Way of Olmsted County also has seen a jump in people seeking food assistance, gas vouchers for work and money for rent and utilities, said nonprofit spokesman Dave Beal. The organization is in the midst of its annual campaign and it is still too early to know if donations are down, Beal said.

On a recent weekday, Frank Florez was among several dozen people waiting in line for the Salvation Army’s free lunch. The Rochester man said times have been tough — especially with food prices going up. A medical problem has kept him from working. So to get by, he stops in a few times a week for the free lunch.

"I’d rather come here and stretch what I have for home," he said.

INSIDE: Web searches can make money for nonprofits — A4

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