<em>Marguerite Morris is having a rough day. She spent most of the night at the emergency room with one of her residents who couldn’t afford to pay for the surgery she needed. Eventually one of the doctors donated his services. </em>
It’s just another day for Morris, executive director of Leah’s House, a shelter for women in Callaway.
“Leah’s House does more than just offer shelter,” says Morris. “I feel like our personal interactions have been life-saving.” But Leah’s House is in trouble, too. It costs $16,000 a month to operate the shelter. The nonprofit had to lay off four employees last spring and is down to two. Morris was able to buy a double-wide trailer home for $1 so she could fit more residents, but she needs $35,000 to put it in place. She has $2 million in grants pending, but others have not been renewed.
“Our funding situation is on the edge,” says Morris. Leah’s House is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It gets some state money through the county and Maryland Public Charities, is a new United Way organization, and is also supported by various churches. Its office is located in donated space on Great Mills Road.
The number-one item on the Leah’s House wish list is money. While Morris says she has had to turn away clothes donations for lack of storage space, toiletries and paper products are welcomed, as are gift cards to grocery stores and shopping venues like Walmart.
“The recession has had an impact on charitable contributions nationally. They dropped several years ago and have not recovered fully,” says Henry Bogdan, director of Public Policy for Maryland Nonprofits, a membership organization that advocates for nonprofit organizations. Personal giving, charitable bequeaths, and corporate and foundation grants have all been affected by the recession. Some foundations no longer accept new applicants.
In addition, Bogdan says, many nonprofits get a large portion of their revenues by contracting with the government to provide services. When the rates for those services are reduced or frozen, that means less income for the nonprofits. Those that generate fees for services, such as training programs, often see their revenues drop in hard times because people can’t afford to pay to enroll.
And people need help more than ever. According to the Maryland Department of Human Resources, the number of people using the Food Supplement Program (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program in Maryland and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) almost doubled between June 2008 and June 2011.
Despite the difficulties, the number of nonprofits in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties grew between 2009 and 2010. Maryland Nonprofits reports that the number of 501(c)(3) organizations grew in St. Mary’s by 17 to 335, in Calvert by 20 to 296, and in Charles by 65 to 470.
Samantha Walker was a typical parent volunteer at her daughter’s elementary school in Charles County when she decided to make a bigger commitment. Simply put, “I wanted to do more,” says Walker. Her vision was to help low-income students and the teachers who serve them.
Walker enlisted the help of a friend, LaTanya Holland, whose father owns the legendary Lefty’s Barbecue in Waldorf. The two women set up a table in the restaurant’s lobby, handed out brochures and raised the $750 they needed to apply for 501(c)(3) status. Still, it was going to cost another $1,600 in attorney fees.
Instead, Walker bought a “how to” book and filed the paperwork herself. She expected a response within a year, so imagine her surprise when she won approval three months later with no additional request for information. Reaching Out Now was born in December 2008. “It was such an overwhelming feeling of joy,” Walker says.
Reaching Out Now, which serves children and families through Maryland’s free and reduced meal program in the schools, collected 17,000 pounds of food during its first drive in June 2009 at the Blue Crabs’ stadium. The Southern Maryland Food Bank helped to distribute it throughout Charles County. “You have to find a way to have an impact,” explains Walker. “You give back right away and don’t hold on to it.”
The organization works year-round, including during the summer and holidays, when the kids aren’t in school and are at risk of going hungry. The nonprofit is reaching out in other ways, too. The Back-to-School Bash collects school supplies for the needy, Inspire to Lead is a series of workshops that helps school-age girls deal with social issues, and the upcoming Senior Prom Drive in March will collect prom dresses and provide services for high schoolers who can’t afford that annual spring event.
Additionally, Reaching Out Now will launch a boys’ program, also called Inspire to Lead, and will expand to several schools in Prince George’s County. “Everything we do focuses on the community,” Walker says.
Reaching Out Now is not funded through state or federal grants; it has a budget for every event and relies on sponsors and the generosity of the community. Walker encourages people who want to help to donate to an event, perform administrative duties or help deliver foodstuff. “People say, ‘Because we are privileged, we give back,’” says Walker, who went from a six-figure family income to being on food stamps. “You can be OK today and lose it all tomorrow. These are real life situations.”
Project Echo in Calvert County has plenty of support – the 22 ministries of the Interfaith Council to be exact – but still struggles to serve those in need. The organization, a 501(c)(3), was established in 1991 and opened its homeless shelter the following year.
“Lately, we’re always full,” says Trisha Gipson, executive director of Project Echo. “The vacancy sign isn’t flashing, that’s for sure.”
The shelter can accommodate 20 men and 20 women as well as their children. Clients can stay for 90 days and have access to 15 different resource programs. The meals are provided by the Interfaith Council, which saves Project Echo about $9,000 a month, says Gipson.
The majority of people served by Project Echo are employed. Some have substance abuse problems or are trying to earn a degree while they work for minimum wage, explains Gipson. “There’s a disparity of income in the community. The industry here is strong, but we don’t have enough of it,” Gipson says. Residents are required to help with upkeep by performing chores around the house and even yard work.
If you want to donate, money is certainly welcome because “you can’t pay the electric bill with a cheesy parmesan salad,” says Gipson, joking. In addition, household supplies – toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products – help keep the place functioning. Twin-size bedding is needed on an ongoing basis as well.
Angel’s Watch Regional Center in Hughesville looks after women and children, primarily victims of domestic violence, from all three counties. Overseen by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, the 20-year-old 501(c)(3) offers a shelter that can accommodate 41 people. Their length of stay lasts between 45 days and two years.
“We’re seeing a lot of people with degrees who become homeless, younger people with children, and the elderly,” explains Dora Carter, the program manager.
Churches from all three counties provide the meals for Angel’s Watch, but the residents buy the groceries if they have the means. “It’s a life skill. We teach them how to budget, just like you and I,” Carter says. “Everything we do is reality based, from learning how to make your bed to cleaning a bathroom.”
The organization gets funding from the state and counties, but money will always be a problem because of cutbacks and the new needy,” Carter says, adding that cash is often used for prescriptions that clients can’t afford. “[Also], we do love for the ladies to have new outfits for interviews, and gift cards are helpful for the children.”
Whether providing shelter for men and women trying to get back on their feet or simply feeding a nutritious lunch to a hungry child, Southern Maryland’s nonprofits are doing the type of work we should all be proud of and support in any way we can. If you have something to give this holiday season, you can feel sure that these organizations will put it to good use. Times are hard, but consider donating – it just might make a difference in someone’s life and yours. ✦
For more information:
Reaching Out Now
and search for “Angel’s Watch”
Southern Maryland Charities:
If you’re looking for more ways to help those in need in our area, consider one of the following organizations. This is by no means a complete list, but rather a sampling of some of the many worthy charities that assist people in Southern Maryland.
Southern Maryland Food Bank
Serves all three counties
Calvert County Meals on WheelS
Prince Frederick; 410-535-4606/301-855-1170
End Hunger in Calvert County
SMILE Ecumenical Ministries Inc.
Lusby; Food pantry and thrift store.
Charles County Children’s Aid Society Inc.
Waldorf; Assistance with food, clothing and shelter.
Charles County Cooperative Ministry on Aging Inc. (Meals on Wheels)
(Nov. 1-March 31)
Temporary shelter for the homeless.
St. Mary’s County:
A Community That Shares Inc. (A.C.T.S.)
Bushwood; In-home medical equipment, at no charge, to residents of St. Mary’s County.
The Clothes Closet
Lexington Park; Clothes, shoes and winter coats.
Three Oaks Shelter
Meals, shelter and outreach services.
Transitional housing and shelter.
Additional Links to County Resources:
Calvert County: http://www.calvertinterfaithcouncil.org/ CountyResources.html
Charles County: http://www.marylandsail.org/ ElectronicDocs/soupkitchens/Charles_County.pdf
St. Mary’s County: http://www.co.saint-marys.md.us/pio/docs/ Foodpantries.pdf