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October 26th, 2011 - Dean Anderson

Bringing cheer

Nonprofits ramp up for holiday efforts, as this year is expected to be exceptionally difficultNonprofits ramp up for holiday efforts, as this year is expected to be exceptionally difficult


The holidays typically bring good cheer, but this year, Oklahoma nonprofits are expecting it to cost more than ever before.

As president and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, Marnie Taylor (pictured) says record-breaking summer temperatures, a sluggish economy and Oklahoma City Public Schools resuming classes almost a month earlier than before is expected to put an even greater strain on many metro families this holiday season.

Seeing the need approaching, Taylor’s organization will host brown-bag lunch sessions, free to members in November and December, focusing on holiday stress for nonprofits.

Taylor says families who were just barely getting by before now are really in trouble. Those who needed assistance just around the holidays now need assistance every day to put food on the table.

“Now it’s substantially worse,” she says. A number of nonprofits typically will host back-to-school events that provide backpacks and other necessities for children. This year was the first for Oklahoma City Public Schools to move to a year-round calendar, meaning those events had to be moved up.

“It threw nonprofits into a huge mess,” Taylor says. “Back-to-school is a huge stressor on social-service agencies.”

Damon Britton, associate director of children and family services for Catholic Charities, says the 112,785 parishioners in the Oklahoma City Archdiocese are asked each year to adopt a family for Christmas.

Last year, 350 families were given assistance.

“I think we’re on par to meet our goals this year,” says Britton. “Our parishioners have definitely been keeping up with their pledges.”

Going into the fourth quarter, Britton says he expects the need this year to be greater than years past. Requests to the charity’s rent and utility assistance program jumped more than 40% from the same summer months last year.

In August, OGE announced it would not cut off customers’ utilities. But that just meant that any unpaid balances would keep accumulating.

“OGE was very gracious with the hot months,” Britton says. “But we’re seeing a lot of bills now in the $1,000-to-$1,200 range. I think that’s definitely going to put a strain on people. OGE was great, but it put the pressure off until now.”

Jeff Lara, director of operations for the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command, says year-round operations such as utility assistance and food-pantry operations overlap with the annual Red Kettle drive, emergency-weather shelters and coat programs.

“The holiday season is incredibly busy for us,” Lara says.

The Salvation Army is expected to serve more than 2,000 families with Christmas toys and gifts, and another 500 senior citizens.

Lara says it’s nearly impossible to quantify the exact cost for holidays. Gifts-in-kind are matched with donations of money and labor, and he says the total is easily a multimillon-dollar effort.

More than 65 Red Kettles will be manned six days a week through Christmas, beginning Nov. 11. The campaign funds Salvation Army programs throughout the year.

“The people that we help are not necessarily homeless or out of work; they are near homelessness or they’re underemployed or they’re one paycheck away from being evicted or losing their car,” Lara says. “They’re looking for help any place they can get it,” he says. “A lot of people come here for assistance.”

Taylor says the holiday months are always times of the year when nonprofits are expected to fill in the gaps.

“Every child should have the magic of Christmas,” Taylor says. “I think that whole thing is so pervasive. That’s obviously why the nonprofits step up and fulfill those wishes.”

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