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Nonprofits under pressure

Contributed photos from the United Way Long lines of cars and people formed for a Food Drop organized by the United Way's Community Impact Coalition at the New Life Christian Church in Alexandria this past summer. Local nonprofit organizations have noticed an increased demand for their services and assistance during the recent economic slump.1 / 3
Shopping carts were filled with school supplies at Target in Alexandria as part of the United Way's backpack program, which helps students from families that can't afford the expense.2 / 3
Contributed photo Roger Hochsprung from Pete's County Market in Alexandria stood next to a big box of items that shoppers had dropped off to support the United Way's annual coat drive. After distributing 860 coats this year, the United Way found there were still families on a waiting list that were hoping to receive the donated winter outerwear.3 / 3

Many businesses and corporations have felt the tug and pull of the economic recession on their well-being in the past year.

Businesses have been forced to make cutbacks. Jobs, wages and community involvement are among the things that some businesses have had to eliminate to survive during this trying time.

Where does that leave volunteer organizations? Non-profit entities base themselves on the goal of making a difference in the community by helping people in need.

Do they suffer due to the fact that people can't afford to donate as much during an economic crisis, or do the organizations benefit because people need them more than ever?

Many Alexandria nonprofits have seen the need for their services increase, and have been impacted by the suffering economy, but most acknowledge that they're doing OK.

"We have avoided adding one more employee to our staff due to the economy," said Christin Klimek, executive director of the Lakes Area Humane Society. "The need for grants is at a higher demand now because more people are coming into the shelter to give their animals away due to loss of jobs and or budget cuts."

In the past few years the humane society has received a grant to help pet owners neuter and spay their animals. Two thousand animals have been neutered or spayed in the last two years. An increase in animals calls for a greater number of grants, which the humane society is unable to obtain.

The Runestone Museum in Alexandria has also been impacted with a reduction in donations and reduced hours.

"We are down about 20 to 25 percent of our donations compared to this time last year," said Julie Blank, museum director. Blank noted, however, that the amount of items being donated is about the same as in the past.

The museum is also closing one hour earlier to save money.

Other organizations can say that they have only bettered themselves during this trying time.

"We are pleased to report that our individual giving has increased 12 percent from fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 to fiscal year ending June 30, 2009," said Lori Anderson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County. "We are very grateful for our donors who help us build hope, homes and community."

Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County has provided affordable homes for 24 families and 96 individuals since 1997.

While some families struggle to put food on the table during these tough times, one organization in particular is working to solve that problem.

Linda Roles, executive director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties, is out to tackle this challenge.

"It has been evident that the recession has impacted our local communities in a number of ways," Roles said. "First of all, the need has increased as more and more families have been affected by loss of jobs, reduced hours or reduced pay."

United Way's Project Community Connect nearly doubled the number of households it impacted from 181 last year to 340 this year. The Food Drop program is filling the need of food for 1,017 households­ - 3,180 individuals - all of whom have never received food assistance before.

A negative can sometimes lead to a positive outcome, as seen by some of these local organizations. With the challenge of surviving the recession, it seems the Alexandria community is doing what it can to become stronger.