Helpers need some help

Requests for help flood centers as donations trickle in.

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

Increased need and decreased support are causing headaches for local charities this holiday season.

Throughout Pinellas County, organizations that help the needy say they are getting more requests for services this year.

"I have agencies calling me, begging me to help them out," said Karen Kolbaba, organizer of the annual Elks motorcycle toy run.

The toy run supplies Christmas gifts to thousands of sick and special needs children and supports charities like RCS Food Bank in Clearwater.

Kathi Trautwein, director of RCS Food Bank, said her organization sees an average of 15 new families each day requesting help with basic necessities.

"The number of people coming in for assistance is drastically up," she said.

Meanwhile, donations are down. The annual letter carrier's food drive this May brought in 95 tons of food, compared to 185 tons in 2006.

"We've been playing catchup ever since," Trautwein said.

The story is the same at Daystar Life Center in St. Petersburg, which provides a variety of assistance to people in need.

Executive director Jane Trocheck Walker said the agency has been "incredibly, overwhelmingly busy."

So far, 120 people have signed up to receive Thanksgiving baskets and Walker expects that number will rise this week.

The charity has five turkeys and "a couple hundred dollars" to buy more, but not nearly enough to make sure each family has a well-balanced holiday meal.

"You just pray that it comes in," she said.

Walker said the spike this year isn't just among the homeless, or the elderly, or young families.

"It's just across the board," she said. "Everybody. It's the economy. I haven't seen it like this since the Reagan years."

Walker, Trautwein and others hear the same stories from their clients: paychecks that don't cover rising housing, utilities and gas prices.

Janet McGuire, community relations coordinator at the St. Petersburg Salvation Army, echoed their sentiments.

"We have a lot of people who have lost their jobs," she said. "Rent has gone up, because property taxes went up. Utilities went up. We have seen a major increase in the number of younger families. That's something that's just heartbreaking, when you can see them coming in with babies."

So far, 47 people have "adopted" children from the Salvation Army's Angel Tree at Tyrone Square Mall.

But the number doesn't come close to the 2,296 children signed up for gifts this year.

"It's about triple from (last year). There (are) that many more people in need," McGuire said.

Faces of Courage Foundation is in the same boat.

"We're seeing an increase in the number of people being referred to us and we're seeing a decrease in the amount of dollars being donated to us," said CEO Peggie Sherry.

Last year, the Elks toy run netted $4,000 for Faces of Courage, a Tampa-based nonprofit that provides camps and outings for women and children affected by cancer. They hoped to raise thousands more this year, to help launch a new teen camp next spring.

Kolbaba, who started the toy run five years ago and has watched it grow, said she has been "heartsick" over the dismal donations this year.

At Christmastime, she and her husband, Frank, will forgo vacation and deliver presents to sick children at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

"That's what I want for Christmas. I want those kids taken care of," she said.



To help

To donate to Faces of Courage Foundation, call (813) 877-2267 or visit the Web site at www.facesofcourage.org.

The Elks West Central District annual motorcycle toy run for special-needs children and military families will start at 1 p.m. Nov. 25 at the Egypt Shriners, 4050 Dana Shores Drive in Tampa. The ride will end at Quaker Steak & Lube, 10400 49th St. N, Pinellas Park. Toys can be dropped off at Quaker Steak & Lube through Nov. 25. The public is invited to the post-run festivities, including an opportunity to make free videotaped messages - courtesy of AT&T - to loved ones serving in the military. For information or to make a donation, call 586-2170.

Daystar Life Center, 226 Sixth St. S, St. Petersburg, is looking for donations of cash, Thanksgiving turkeys, canned food and grocery store gift certificates. To help, call 825-0442.

The St. Petersburg Salvation Army is seeking donations of cash, canned food, toys, baby diapers and hygiene items. The agency is also looking for people to buy toys for needy children through its Angel Tree in front of JCPenney in Tyrone Square Mall. To help, call 550-8080.

RCS Food Bank of Clearwater, 700 Druid Road E, Clearwater, is seeking donations of cash, canned food and turkeys. Call 443-4031 or drop off donations between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. They are closed on Thanksgiving but will stay open until7 p.m. Tuesday.