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Local charities also victims of the attacks


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 27, 2001

Metropolitan Ministries is one of Tampa's most established charities, so no one blinked when its leaders set a September fundraising goal of $495,000.

Metropolitan Ministries is one of Tampa's most established charities, so no one blinked when its leaders set a September fundraising goal of $495,000.

But now that agency expects to receive only $132,000 this month, less than 27 percent of its original goal.

Other charities say they, too, have watched their contributions fall off as people across America have opened their checkbooks and generously donated hundreds of millions of dollars to funds that provide disaster relief and support for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Leaders of local charities say this drop-off in contributions is an understandable but worrisome trend, because local nonprofits are the ones that will support laid-off workers hurt by the terrorists' blows to the tourism and airline industries.

In other words, count local charities -- and the people who rely on them -- among those hurt by the attacks.

People in the Tampa Bay area should know that "Bin Laden has had an effect on their neighbors, too," said Karleen Kos, executive vice president of Metropolitan Ministries, which provides many services for the homeless and poor. "Once the newness or the shock of the terrible events in New York have worn off, we need to realize that the tragedies have hurt here, too."

Leaders of local charities are quick to say they support all the giving to national nonprofit organizations such as the United Way, the Salvation Army and Red Cross.

"It kind of makes you excited that people have that kind of heart and generosity," said Gloria Smith, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association, Tampa Bay chapter.

Many groups have canceled or modified fundraising events out of respect for the victims of the attacks.

But at the same time, these leaders stress that they can't turn their backs on people in the Tampa Bay area who need their help -- especially with the stock market's recent declines and the slumping tourism industry.

"It's a time for people maybe to double their efforts rather than redirecting them," Smith said.

"We are asking people to remain generous," said Stephany Dawson, marketing director at Religious Community Services in northern Pinellas County, which operates a food pantry, a domestic violence shelter and programs for homeless people. She said the group sent out a fundraising notice on Sept. 1, and she started seeing the peach envelopes with contributions coming back in the mail.

After Sept. 11, they dropped off noticeably. This month, RCS has collected $84,848, compared with more than $100,000 in both July and August, said Jamia Austin, director of the RCS Food Pantry.

Sunrise of Pasco County, a center that works with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, sent out a fundraising newsletter the first week of September. Penny Morrill, who heads the agency, says she has yet to get one donation back.

"In the big picture, we have to remember that there are a lot of folks locally who have continuing needs," Morrill said. She said she is also worried that the increased stress people may be feeling since the attacks could lead to an increase in family violence.

Jolean McPherson, regional communications director for the American Cancer Society, said her organization has not seen a decrease in contributions. Unlike some other groups, it is less reliant on continuing direct-mail appeals and is moving ahead with plans for a breast cancer fundraiser in St. Petersburg next month.

"We'll definitely be holding up the flags and donning our red, white and blue," she said.

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