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Nonprofits surprising problem: successful fundraising


Feds cut food program aimed at seniors, but donations make up gap

For Julie Piper Finley, fundraising success is a double-edged sword.

The director of marketing and communications for Meals on Wheels People recently led a massive fundraising campaign that countered an $85,000 federal cut to 35 area programs, including Forest Grove’s.

So what’s the problem?

“Our luck in fundraising is exactly what Republicans are going to point at and continue cutting,” Piper Finley said. “We are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

When the next cuts hit, she said, “I can’t guarantee that we can raise that again. It was a huge struggle.”

A variety of nonprofits across the country run Meals on Wheels programs, aiming to end hunger and improve nutrition by providing meals to homebound seniors and their spouses or disabled dependents.

In the Pacific Northwest, Piper Finley’s organization serves Washington and Multnomah counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington.

The $85,000 funding cut was one of the blanket “sequestration” cuts that took effect when Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. failed to agree on a better way to cut the federal budget.

County donations brought the $85,000 gap down to $28,000 and private donations made up the rest, Piper Finley said.

“We are really good at begging,” she said. “When you explain to people, ‘Seniors will starve if you don’t help,’ they are pretty generous.”

But Piper Finley has heard the next cuts could be as much as $100,000. “I can’t ask our donors for $85,000 or more every year,” she said.

“At some point these federal cuts will affect them,” said Mike Morosi, communications director for Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton), who is trying to repeal the sequestration cuts and reauthorize the Older Americans Act to protect seniors.

Even this year, other, smaller counties are suffering, such as Clackamas and Columbia, where 7,000 fewer meals will be served and some seniors will be denied access to the program, Piper Finley said.

“This isn’t just a meal, but the human contact with having that meal,” said Bonamici, noting how volunteer drivers have discovered seniors who were ill or who fell and couldn’t get up.

In Forest Grove, generous donors are helping , said Theresa Carter, center manager for the Forest Grove Meals on Wheels, which serves lunch to more than 350 seniors a day.

Two weekends ago, for example, the program raised $1,300 through a car-show fundraiser.

When new cuts come, Carter said, she’ll find ways to cope. “You do like you did in the old days — you just water down the soup. It means you serve a little bit less, or stretch the meals with vegetables.”

Carter said she’d also rely more on the food bank and use even cheaper ingredients.

Still, “it would be nice if we could get our funding back and not have to worry,” she said.

Piper Finley agrees. This year, she said, “We were lucky. And we can’t be lucky every year.”