Hundreds of area residents benefited from the American Red Cross's free programs and services throughout 2010, but community support for the local chapter organization continues to decline.
The North Central PA American Red Cross, which provides disaster services, health and safety training, assistance for those in the armed forces, blood services and more, is facing a budgetary deficit, and donations to the holiday campaign have decreased significantly this year compared to years past.
"Only halfway through the (fiscal) year and we are falling short of our budget ... It's serious," said Kathy Stine, executive director.
Red Cross supporters join the organization’s local chapter Friday for a holiday luncheon. Fundraising for the aid group has taken a hit.
The chapter set a $385,000 budget for this year, but funds are coming up short for several reasons. One is a lack of fundraising opportunities and a shortage of volunteers. In the past 10 years, volunteers have become few and far between. While Stine said the chapter still has a few loyal and hard-working volunteers, it is in need of more help.
"There is only so much that a couple people can do," she said.
The economic recession also has played a part in the chapter's deficit. This year, the NCPA Red Cross budgeted $18,000 for the holiday campaign income and sent out about 6,000 letters.
"We're getting mail every day, but it's about half (the amount) compared to other years," Stine said. "We have received less than $8,000."
She added, "Every year financial support locally has been getting less and less. The last 10 years, community support has gone down drastically ... but programs and services we provide have in fact increased."
This year to date, the NCPA Red Cross has served 202 fire victims with free services that include emergency lodging, clothing and food following an incident.
"So far this year the cost exceeds $50,400," Stine said.
This figure does not include NCPA's administrative costs in providing the services.
The local chapter of the Red Cross also has served 124 military service members and/or families so far this year through free communication services, which allow the service person and family to communicate a life threatening illness, death, birth or tragedy.
In addition, the NCPA Red Cross has offered many free health and safety classes to the community this year.
"Red Cross has several programs free to the community, such as "Scrubby Bear," a program that teaches children the proper way to wash their hands and teaches them the importance of good hygiene," Stine said.
The NCPA Red Cross offered the Scrubby Bear program to 147 children this year.
The fire safety preparedness program is offered to community members of all ages, and 535 individuals participated this year.
"We do a lot of preparedness that is all free services to the community, and we have to pay for that somehow," said Stine, stressing the fact that the services do not provide any income for the Red Cross.
"The only income we have is what people give us for donations," she said.
While the Red Cross services always will be provided, Stine said, a limited budget allows the local branch only to offer the bare minimum.
"It's going to put a restraint on the services we can provide when people need it the most," Stine said.
While money is tight for many this holiday season, Stine said every little bit counts, both in terms of volunteer work and financial donations.
"I want to encourage people to give what they can," she said. "We need to exceed our budget so that we can build a strong chapter ... and we need the community's help to do that."