Running behind today, still catching up on stuff I wanted to write about yesterday…
Such as Harvest Hope Food Bank‘s urgent appeal for operating funds. You may have read about it already in The State today. It was hard to miss, since it was the lede story. That was gratifying not only because Harvest Hope, and the people it serves, need the communities in its 20 counties to know about the situation, but because ADCO was helping the agency get the word out. (When I saw that was the lede this morning, I thought, “Idiot! Why didn’t you put that on your Virtual Front Page yesterday? The reason — I was so close to it, it didn’t even occur to me.)
The situation is this: Harvest Hope needs our help, as it never has before in its 30-year history.
HH is the food safety net for 20 counties in South Carolina – the Midlands, Florence and Greenville. It is a regional food distribution organization that collects, stores, and distributes food and related items. Its 450 member agencies that feed the hungry in these communities – churches, private charities, others – depend on Harvest Hope to provide the food.
The increase in need recently has been startling. In the last six months, the number of families HH has fed has increased by 42 percent over the same period a year earlier. Harvest Hope served 91 percent more families in 2010 than it did in 2008. Another way to put it is that the private nonprofit served 2,037,496 individuals throughout the service area in 2010.
With double-digit unemployment in our state, HH sees no sign of this need abating soon.
While the need has increased, so have unavoidable expenses: Just fueling the fleet of vehicles that deliver food throughout the 20 counties costs $3,100 a day. With unrest sweeping the Mideast, fuel prices are expected to rise, not drop, for the foreseeable future. Harvest Hope has food in our warehouse, but if they can’t deliver it, it does no one any good.
Yet in this time of increasing need and expenses, over the last four months, donations to Harvest Hope have dropped.
Here is how Harvest Hope’s funding cycle typically works: Most of its cash donations come in during the last four months of the year. It gets through each spring and summer by tapping a $400,000 line of credit. HH pays off that line of credit with the money that comes in from September-December. Each year in the past, HH has paid off the line of credit by January 1.
This year, because of the drop-off in financial donations, HH has been unable to pay off the line of credit.
HH has cut most of the expense items it believes it can cut while still serving the needs of the hungry. It has cut back on mailings, switching to e-mail; reduced casual labor to help sort food, bringing in more volunteers for additional shifts on nights and weekends; tried to get food more from within the region to avoid shipping costs; eliminated travel to conferences and staff training; reduced the use of operational supplies. Next, if necessary, would be staff reductions.
Why has giving dropped off? Because regular donors, friends and neighbors who have been so generous in the past, are also hurting in this economic crisis. Some who have given regularly have told Denise Holland and HH staff that they are themselves just a step away from needing Harvest Hope’s help in order to eat.
Harvest Hope needs $2 million between now and the end of June, and as much of it as possible as soon as possible. This number arises from a combination of factors, including the accelerating increase in need, the rise in unavoidable expenses, and the drop-off in cash contributions. In asking for this money, HH is not only trying to pay off the line of credit, but also anticipating a continued greater monthly operating expense going forward. Another way to put it: HH is about a million in the hole now, and extrapolating forward, sees itself going in deeper and deeper if it keeps meeting the need — which it fully intends to do.
Some have already stepped up nobly to help meet this need. Mungo Homes has offered to donate $150,000 if it is matched by twice as much from the community. This is in keeping with a long tradition in the Mungo family of providing material support to Harvest Hope.
But even when that match challenge has been met, HH will need much more, and is hoping other major donors will follow the Mungos’ example and offer similar challenges.
Donations to Harvest Hope are of course tax-deductible, and 98 cents out of every dollar it receives goes directly to feeding hungry families in our area.
By the way — Harvest Hope does not foster a culture of dependency. Typically, if it is able to feed a family for three months in succession, it gets them through their crisis so that they are able to be self-sufficient going forward. During those three months, Harvest Hope frees them from worrying about food so that they can concentrate on the other things they need to do to get themselves out of financial difficulty.
Over the last three years more than 484,000 individuals came to HH for help through its two full-time emergency food pantries, and of those, 86,000 came for the first time. The top reasons? Unemployment, underemployment, and the high costs of shelter.
Less than 1 percent of our clients receive TANF (commonly called “welfare”) payments.
When this economic crisis first hit the nation in 2008, we heard a lot about financial institutions that were “too big to fail.” For the communities it serves, Harvest Hope is the institution that is too big to fail. The hungry of these communities, and the various agencies that feed them, depend on Harvest Hope too much.
And Harvest Hope is not failing. It is not going away. It is getting the job done, despite the challenges before it. But for the first time, it has gone into a financial hole doing so, and needs our help to get out of it, and continue the mission.
Here’s how to give:
• Visit the donor page at the website: www.harvesthope.org.
• If you have received a mailing from Harvest Hope, please use the reply envelope that came with it.
• Send a check to Harvest Hope, 2220 Shop Road, Columbia, SC 29201.
OK, THAT SORT OF ENDS THE OFFICIAL MESSAGE. The above is an adaptation of the talking points that I helped Denise put together before Tuesday’s news conference. In fact, I changed so little of it that I may have missed a couple of places where it says “we,” though I meant to change it to “it” or “they” or “Harvest Hope.” Forgive me; I’m running behind and am in a hurry.
Now, allow me to add an editorial comment of my own:
We hear a lot from folks who subscribe to the ideology that keeps winning elections in our state that they don’t want government taking care of the needy, that they think private charities should take up the slack.
THIS is how private charities feed the hungry — the “deserving hungry,” for those of you who make such distinctions — in this area. You may see a church or other agency feeding people, but like as not, that entity got the food from Harvest Hope. That’s sort of what I meant about the “too big to fail” thing. This IS the private sector’s response to the existence of hunger in our communities.
So let’s step up.