Giving down, blamed on suffering economy

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 24, 2003

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Coordinator, Kathy Perrine, adds angels to the Christmas tree outside JCPenney at Pemberton Square mall. Perrine said the children and elderly people whose names appear on the angels are chosen through a strict interview process and all live in Vicksburg, Anguilla, Port Gibson and Rolling Fork. (Jenny Sevcik The Vicksburg Post)

(11/24/03)Capt. Joe Mur, head of the Salvation Army in Vicksburg, said he’s cut his staff by a third since coming here in June.

“Our monetary donations are down about 50 percent in the last 24 months,” he said. But the workload hasn’t changed.

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He said he believes less charitable giving is a product of the sluggish economy.

“It’s just a difficult time,” he said. “There are certain things we can’t do.”

In addition to cash donations sagging, Mur said the organization has had fewer food donations, too.

“We’ve tried to cut overhead in every way we possibly can,” he said. “There are some things you can’t possibly cut.”

The real test will be the approaching Christmas season, he said. About 1,000 children have signed up for the Angel Tree, a program in which donors buy gifts and the Salvation Army sees that needy children get them.

The downturn is surprising since the most recent surveys of charitable giving again ranked Mississippi first in generosity.

Barbara Tolliver, president of the United Way of West Central Mississippi, 920 South St., said this region is ranked first in the country when compared with other areas of similar size.

However, Tolliver’s branch of the United Way is down $200,000 this year as compared to the past two years when it raised $1.7 million.

The United Way is an umbrella organization that raises money for 23 charitable groups, including the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, the Child Abuse Prevention Center, the Warren County Children’s Shelter and the Warren-Yazoo Mental Health Service.

The drop in giving at the United Way takes its toll on the charitable groups.

“We’ve had to pass these cuts down to the agencies,” Tolliver said.

The Rev. Charles Boykins at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1512 Main St., said he’s aware of the financial problems of charitable groups in the area. He said his church focuses on helping the United Way and its food pantry.

Boykins said he has turned down charitable groups from outside of the area soliciting money, but support has continued for the United Way.

Tolliver said the United Way has already began looking at different marketing strategies for next year. She said she plans to make more clear the results it has in the community because some people in the area aren’t aware of the good the United Way provides.

“We have to do a lot of general educating in the community,” she said. “There’s still a lot of people that don’t know what we do.”