This holiday season, the shelves at Wake County’s Salvation Army are unusually bare.
The decrease in donations in Wake County is part of a trend at Salvation Army centers across North and South Carolina, said Shelley Henderson, director of communications for The Salvation Army of the Carolinas.
Henderson said fundraising at the Salvation Army peaked in the days following Hurricane Matthew’s Oct. 8 landfall, but decreased in November. This could be, she said, because the money and other donations that residents of North and South Carolina would otherwise give during the holiday season went to hurricane relief.
“During a time of disaster, we are very visible, but we want people to remember that the Salvation Army is not just here during disasters and at Christmas time,” Henderson said. “We are helping feed families and providing the homeless with warm, safe beds at night 365 days a year.”
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The heated election season also could have contributed to decreased donations, Henderson said, as people’s attention was focused on the political horse race rather than work nonprofits were doing.
She noted that online donations to the Salvation Army of the Carolinas are down 12 percent this November compared to November 2015. Overall giving to the Carolinas is down about 1.3 percent compared to November 2015.
Changes in food donations from year-to-year can’t be easily tracked at the state level, but they are noticeably lagging at some local branches, Henderson said.
At the Wake County Salvation Army, it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much food donations are down, but the trend is evident looking at the shelves, said spokeswoman Lizzy Adams.
“Typically at this time of year we would have at least a few items on every single shelf,” Adams said. “Last week, there were just a couple of items on a couple of different shelves. That’s just abnormal for this time of year.”
Decreased donations have already had an impact on the Wake County Salvation Army’s food assistance program, which generally provides a week’s worth of groceries to 25 families on Tuesday and 25 families on Thursday. The week before Thanksgiving, the program had to reduce the number of families receiving groceries to 17, Adams said.
Food donations to the Durham County Salvation Army have also decreased this holiday season, said community and resource development director Tammie Sellman.
Sellman said the Salvation Army distributed about 40 barrels to public schools across Durham County at the beginning of November where students and their families can donate canned goods. So far, they have had 18 full barrels returned to them. In previous years, she said the response has been substantially higher.
“It’s hard to know exactly why this decrease is occurring,” Sellman said. “We know the Durham County residents gave generously to Hurricane Matthew relief efforts and did so through the Salvation Army, and that was very much needed.”
Adams noted that it is possible that Wake County residents devoted their charity to disaster relief, but she added that “a variety of factors” could have contributed to the decrease.
“We’re just hoping that holiday giving spirit kicks in,” Adams said.
The falloff in donations is not universal among groups that provided hurricane relief. The Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina did not experience a decrease in donations in November, said Jessica Slider Whichard, senior manager for communications. In fact, Whichard said, donations are up slightly compared to the same time last year, which has allowed the organization to keep up with demand – even as it increased following Matthew.
The food bank has distributed more than 2 million pounds of disaster relief food and supplies in 28 counties affected by flooding, Whichard said.
The Red Cross does not expect to see a decline in donations over the holiday season, although it will be able to better gauge that in December, said Brittany Jennings, the regional communications officer for the Red Cross in Eastern North Carolina.
Jennings said that estimates show that the Red Cross’ relief efforts across the Southeast following Hurricane Matthew could cost $21 million to $25 million. As of Nov. 8, the Red Cross had received nearly $13.3 million in designated donations and pledges, she said.
Rachel Chason: 919-829-4629
How to help
To donate to the Wake County Salvation Army, go to www.salvationarmycarolinas.org/wakecounty/get-involved/. For information about dropoffs and pickups at specific locations, call 919-779-8867.
To donate to the Salvation Army of Durham, Orange and Person counties, go to www.salvationarmycarolinas.org/durham/donate. For information about dropoffs and pickups at specific locations, call 919-384-7130.