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Need is up, giving is down, so charities brainstorm

Fund-raisers look for new tools to attract donations in hard times

Just because the holiday season is nearly over, advocates say, the need for charity hasn't ended.

Just ask Dalonda Jenkins, a 20-year-old single mother of two young boys who is struggling to finish her GED studies, pay rent at her Gresham apartment and get into nursing school. She has big dreams for herself and her children.

'I want one of them to be a famous basketball player and one to be a famous football player,' she said. But along the way, she's depending on support from the Youth Employment Institute, an alternative school at 1704 N.E. 26th Ave. that provides child care, education and job training for low-income youth.

Although the school has been around for 17 years, this year for the first time it offered a gift-giving program that aimed to link business and individual sponsors with youths to fill their wish lists.

Gift programs, matching donation incentives and fancy Web sites are just a few of the tools that nonprofit agencies are using nowadays to attract donors in a sliding economy.

For instance, the Web site for Join, an agency that helps homeless people get off the streets and into housing, posts a needs list that details everything from socks and underwear to dishes and alarm clocks.

Rob Justus, executive director of Join, said the agency has to use every tool it can amid shrinking resources and an increasing demand for homeless services.

'We're experiencing a lot more families sleeping in their vehicles,' he said. 'Obviously, the economy has something to do with that.'

He also cites the high unemployment rate, budget cuts by the county and state to mental health and addictions services, and already overcrowded homeless shelters.

Services to children also are tight.

'We're a little stressed this season,' said Maura White, executive director of the Police Activities League, a Portland Police Bureau program that holds activities for 125 to 150 students during the winter break. 'Donations are down, but we still have to serve. We can't stop.'

Because the program's only full-time PAL officer's position was cut from the budget earlier this year, the program completely relies on volunteers from Portland's school police division, Gresham police and Multnomah County sheriff's office, as well as parents.

'A lot of our kids are already low-income,' White said. 'Especially at holiday time, there's so much more stress, and kids are so much more vulnerable.'

The city's Youth Gang Outreach program, based at the King Neighborhood Facility in Northeast Portland, faces a similar crunch. The program is supported by a $40,000 grant from United Way and a $75,000 city block grant from the mayor. But that's not nearly enough for the dozens of teens who regularly flow through the office looking for snacks and companionship.

Tonya Dickens, the Youth Gang Outreach program manager, typi-cally dips into her own pocket for such items, but she'd love it if donors could help out this winter with essentials such as hats, gloves, coats and scarves.

'They say they don't need that stuff, but they do,' she says. 'It's cold.'

'A meal a minute'

During the winter months, especially, help also is needed at Sisters of the Road Cafe, 133 N.W. Sixth Ave., a nonprofit restaurant that serves meals to homeless and low-income people in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhoods.

People may either make donations or volunteer their time.

'We serve about a meal a minute and can't serve more meals than that unless we expand our hours,' said Monica Beemer, the cafe's financial and development director. 'It's just pretty maxed out. There are definitely more people who are newly homeless É there's just sort of more stress.'

The agency has a matching grant challenge that's raised more than $34,000 since Nov. 1 and aims to raise $100,000 in individual contributions by the end of the year.

Beemer said people can have a direct impact on the homeless by handing out $2 meal coupons that can be redeemed at the cafe. Sales of the coupons have soared this year, she said.

'It's all about forging relationships with the people you see on the street every day,' Beemer said.

Donations can be made at any time through the following contacts: PAL, www.palkids.org or 503-823-0250; Youth Employment Institute, (503) 280-1058; Join, www.joinpdx.com or (503) 232-2031; Youth Gang Outreach program, King Neighborhood Facility, 4815 N.E. Seventh Ave.; Sisters of the Road Cafe, www.sistersoftheroadcafe.org or 503-222-5694.

Contact Jennifer Anderson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .