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As sales slow, charity thrives


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000

Even with a softening economy that has hit retailers hard, people in the Tampa Bay area still appear to be doling out healthy contributions to charity.

Some local agencies say they are in a season of plenty.

"The season has been wonderful," said Donna Young, house director at the Ronald McDonald House in St. Petersburg. "If you find some place that's struggling, I'd be happy to share. We've just had an outpouring from the community."

On Thursday, the house received 52 hair dryers, two griddles, a donation for a commercial refrigerator and other gifts, Young said.

In the past week, the Salvation Army in St. Petersburg has seen its donations pick up.

"The pace started out slower than normal," said Capt. Mark Israel, area commander for South Pinellas County. But "last week has shown some very good increases and our giving seems to be putting us back on target." By Saturday night, they should reach their goal of $150,000, he said.

Not all Salvation Army commanders can say the same thing.

In Orlando, agency officials are seeing an 18 percent decrease in their holiday mail campaign. Food donations also are down by a third at the Volusia County Salvation Army.

"I think the economy is in a downturn," said Capt. David Birmingham, commander of Orlando's Salvation Army. "Retail is down. People are not spending money, so they're not giving it away either."

In the Tampa Bay area, the American Red Cross has seen a strong outpouring from donors giving toys, but financial contributions throughout the year have been puny.

"We have not had any major type of disasters. That's such a great thing and we're happy for that," said Janet McGuire, public affairs director for the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter that includes Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

But when the public doesn't see the American Red Cross in the news, potential donors tend to forget about them when they pull out the checkbook, she said.

Other agencies have an age-old problem.

"They're going out faster than they're coming in," said George Cull, manager of the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Clearwater. But "you can only take so much because of storage space and the (limited) number of bodies to pick it up."

Cull said it's been busy, as usual, this year. The store has collected about $130,000 worth of furniture and $30,000 worth of clothes.

- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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