For non-profits and organizations that rely upon charitable giving, the holiday season is an important time to collect funds that will fuel them all year. Nationwide, more than 35 percent of donations to charities are made during the final month of the year. Locally, officials with local non-profits admit that holiday giving is crucial to their year-round success.
“Almost half of donations to our annual campaign comes in during the holiday season,” said Kelsey Collier-Wise, executive director of the United Way of Vermillion. “It's a time when people are thinking about giving back to their community and making sure their donation counts for the current tax year. … It changes from year to year, but I'd estimate that about $60,000 will have come in during the time around Thanksgiving through the first week of January.”
Overall, at this point in its campaign, the United Way of Vermillion has raised about $130,000 of its $170,000 goal. This is in line with previous years, said Collier-Wise.
Another non-profit, the Salvation Army, is also on-par with previous years for this year’s giving. More than 90 percent of the Salvation Army’s annual funding comes through their bell ringing efforts during the holiday season.
“The past few years, we have averaged between $15,000 and $17,000 [through our bell-ringing campaign],” said Joanne Ustad, administrator at the UCC Church, which oversees the Vermillion Emergency Fund, a joint effort between the Salvation Army and the Vermillion Ministerial Association that provides small amounts of money to local residents and travelers who need gas, lodging, a hot meal, utilities, or medicine, etc. “We haven’t totaled the last weekend of ringing yet, but we should be close to previous years [for total amount raised].”
Giving during the holiday season is also very important for the Vermillion Food Pantry, where colder months bring larger utility bills, holiday events, children home from school where they are not receiving at least one meal, and weather issues that all affect the ability of low-income families to put food on their tables, according to Teresa McDowell Johnson, executive director of the Vermillion Food Pantry (VFP).
“The VFP offers a family an opportunity to receive food to supplement those thin budgets and provide healthy options to children home over the school break,” said McDowell Johnson. “Holiday food drives conducted by business and groups are absolutely sustaining for the VFP. The VFP depends on annual food drives from area churches and businesses and greatly appreciates the effort and thought it took for someone to go and purchase the items.
“A little-known fact is the VFP has the means to increase the purchase power of that dollar three to four-fold by the buying partnerships it participates in,” she said.
This month, the VFP has seen in an increase in usage with 926 individuals receiving food during the first 29 days of December, as compared to a year ago, when 523 individuals received food during the month. Overall, the pantry averages a 9 percent increase in usage between November and February.
“There are a few months in the year where it levels off with a substantial increase over the summer when children are home and not in school receiving meals,” said McDowell Johnson. “The VFP averages 203 families served per month, totaling between 652 to 700 individuals.”
Food drives in the fall and holiday season – along with generous giving from area businesses – supplies the pantry with literally tons of food.
“Receiving a ton of food from a food drive seems like it should last months when the reality is it rarely gets the VFP through a month,” said McDowell Johnson. “My first time stocking the shelves with a ton of food felt like, ‘Wow, this is so great -- look at all the choices everyone will have for months.’ Then the shelves became empty in less than a month while only providing families enough food for 5 to 7 days.
“Trying to visually describe a ton of food being distributed in less than month often leaves me without words. Just as providing the statistics on the food insecurity rate for Clay County seems hollow when daily I get the opportunity to speak to and hear what is happening in the lives of those who are in need of the VFP,” she said.
The Vermillion Food Pantry, as well as other local organizations, are grateful for the generosity of people in the area during the holiday season and year-round.
“Vermillion is an incredibly generous community, whether they're buying presents for deserving kiddos through an ESA Giving Tree tag, or bringing cereal to the Food Pantry, sharing a meal and fellowship with a new friend at the Welcome Table, or supporting dozens of community organizations through a donation to United Way,” said Collier-Wise. “That generosity really comes through during the holidays and you truly get the sense of what this season is really about.”
“In addition to items from food drives, the VFP recovers food from area business such as Café Brule, Coffee Cup, the Farmer’s Market, Get N Go, HyVee, Pizza Hut, Pump N Pack, and Wal-Mart. In 2018, the VFP recovered 180,000 pounds of food from these sites,” McDowell Johnson said. “These donations allow the VFP to provide fresh fruits and vegetables which are essential for healthy and nutritious meals. Our community is a generous community providing support so that the VFP can offer assistance once a month to a family; this is unique from other pantries in the states that offer assistance once every three months to six months.”
Of course, just because the holiday season is coming to an end doesn’t mean that the need for donations is over for any of the area’s charitable organizations.
“While the generosity of holiday giving is welcome and fills empty shelves at the VFP, food insecurity does not end when the holiday season ends,” McDowell Johnson said. “We are only at the beginning of the colder months and the need does not end when the holiday break ends. Hunger is not just a holiday seasonal occurrence.”
Continued support of local charities is extremely important, said Collier-Wise.
“Charities working on the local level are making a difference in the day to day lives of our friends and neighbors,” she said. “Organizations like United Way and the 28 local nonprofit programs we support know what the needs are in our community and can address them directly. On this level, we can keep costs low and make the greatest impact with every donation, and you can see your donation at work every day, and talk to the folks doing work and receiving the services.”
The year 2020 will be exciting for local charities as the Vermillion United Way, the Vermillion Emergency Fund, the Salvation Army, and others move into the new Community Connection Center.
“As we get settled into The Community Connection Center, we're excited to look at new programs that we can offer out of the space, including enhanced community navigator services that will help people in need locate resources, health screenings, and workshops for nonprofits,” said Collier-Weise. “We'll also be starting a community mural in the Meyer Community Room, where the Welcome Table takes place.”
The Vermillion Food Pantry, meanwhile, is looking forward to “building relationships with other providers in the community as we continue to serve” in 2020, according to McDowell Johnson.
“We have some big ventures ready to launch: (1) We recently started a program that includes utilizing the products that the VFP typically has on its shelves and different ways to prepare them. This endeavor includes demonstrations, taste testing, and recipes. (2) Another opportunity we have is partnering with instructors of the Better Choices, Better Health® SD.
“The program consists of four different self-management workshops: chronic disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and worksite chronic disease. (3) We are also excited about the discussions taking place with the Vermillion Community Garden management and opportunities we can offer community members. (4) Members of our community from USD often are part of those who are the invisible food insecure and how we build upon our relationship to provide for them is an area in discussion. (5) A program that the VFP has offered for several years but doesn’t receive the awareness it needs is specifically for our senior population,” she said.
“The Commodity Supplement Food Program (CSFP) is designed to improve the health of low-income persons at least 60 years of age by supplementing their diets with USDA foods. Many of the seniors within Clay County are on fixed incomes and could benefit by participation in this program,” McDowell Johnson said. “A plan to provide education and awareness to service providers and eligible seniors about the CSFP program is part of the 2020 plan. With this much on our plate there is always the need for additional volunteers to assist in achieving these ventures!”
As the new year 2020 begins to unfold, don’t forget to think about continued support of local charities and organizations. All area non-profits welcome donations throughout the year.