Indiana charities are hoping donations will pick up this holiday season to meet the skyrocketing demand for help during the slumping economy.
Charities in Indiana have reported increased requests for help with rent, utility costs, food and other services. Many people asking for help have never done so before, and cities with high unemployment rates, such as Elkhart, Kokomo and Marion, are seeking more aid.
"The need is just astronomically high," said Ellen Annala, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Indiana.
More than 60 percent of people seeking help through the charity's special economic relief fund are first time applicants, she said. The fund has expanded its reach to cover mental health services such as depression that can be more common during a recession, Annala said.
The Salvation Army said requests for basic aid are up 20 percent in central Indiana, and its shelter is full. More people are also seeking help getting items like Christmas presents and winter coats this year.
The Salvation Army is trying to raise $3 million this year for central Indiana, up from about $2.75 million last year.
"It's not about us trying to push our fundraising, it's about us being realistic about the assistance requests that we're getting," said Jeff Stanger, development director for the Salvation Army's Indiana division.
Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana said some of the food pantries and other charities that distribute food around the state have seen increases in demand up to 50 percent.
"The need has grown dramatically over the last 18 months," said Pamela Altmeyer, the food bank's president and CEO. "It hasn't slowed up any."
The increased need this year comes after an especially difficult 2008 for fundraisers, said Robert Evans, a Philadelphia area fundraising consultant. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is critical to philanthropic groups since so many people donate during the holidays, he said.
This year many organizations are being more aggressive and going after more donors during the holidays to meet their goals during hard economic times.
"Last year lots of people went into the fetal position saying 'Woe is me,'" Evans said. "It was like a deer in the headlights. That's not the case now."
So far this year, overall donations have held steady for many Indiana organizations, but some corporate giving is down as businesses struggle in the economy. The United Way of Central Indiana said companies that run corporate donation programs are raising more money this year than in 2008, but some companies dropped their giving programs or have gone out of business.
Even groups that are reporting increased donations are hoping that collections can keep up with demand during the holidays.
"Those that have anything to share are anxious to do it," Altmeyer said. "They realize how close we all are to being in trouble. The sensitivity is touching."