Monday, February 04, 2013

Storm Sandy, economy cited in donations drop

"We're going to have to tighten our strings," Roanoke Area Ministries' executive director said.

Special to The Roanoke Times

Good Neighbors Fund

Donation form

In 2011, the Good Neighbors Fund - which is sponsored by The Roanoke Times and supports Roanoke Area Ministries' Emergency Financial Assistance Program - seemed on the rebound from its recession-induced slump. By the end of January 2012, readers had sent $172,001 in direct contributions - nearly $20,000 short of 2008's record-breaking $191,300 - but well above the 2010 total of $166,897. Added to the 2011 amount was approximately $39,965 in proceeds from the sale of the Roanoke Times' "Flavors of Home" cookbook. In all, $201,965 was given to RAM in 2011 to help the needy.

But by Jan. 28, with the economy still growing slowly and no cookbook sales to boost the total, the 2012 fund raising effort stood at $156,987, the lowest amount collected since 2004, when readers sent in $131,600.

Debbie Denison, the charity's executive director, said "I'm happy with what we got," but she thinks the shortfall may be because of some regular donors sending money to the victims of Hurricane Sandy instead of to the Good Neighbors Fund.

In any event, "I'm going to have to find money somewhere else," she said. "We're going to have to tighten our strings. Last year was the best ever, and I got spoiled."

No one will be turned away, she explained, but the size of each grant will be reduced and applicants will have to apply to other charities to make up the difference.

"I think people did the best they could," said Jo-Anne Woody, RAM's administrative assistant.

As usual, many readers were touched by the stories about people who have received help from the fund and were profiled in the newspaper.

Many people called about Marc Walker, a Roanoke man who was the first person at the scene of his girlfriend's murder, Woody said. Walker was traumatized by the event, could not work, and could not find free counseling to help him deal with the stress. Most of the callers were not professional counselors, Woody said, but offered to listen if he just needed someone to talk to.

Jenny Lee, chief development officer of Family Service of Roanoke Valley, emailed the newspaper with information about the agency's Community Grief Loss Center, which offers free group-based counseling for those coping with a loss of any kind. Another group, geared specifically for those whose loved ones were homicide victims, will begin March 4.

Lee wrote that individual counseling is available on a sliding-fee schedule, and that the agency also accepts Medicare and Medicaid.

The information was forwarded to Walker, who said he is now working part time and plans to look into the program.

"I'm feeling a little better," he said. "I'm just trying to keep my mind busy."

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