Community News — 20 November 2010
Recession means new faces need donations, which keep flowing

On a bright autumn morning Bob and Maureen Franks load up the trunk of their sedan with canned goods, meat and vegetables ready for impoverished local families. 

The recession might be over, but the need still exists, said Ken Naser, executive director of ALIVE! (Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically), a cooperative of Alexandrias religious congregations and local volunteers, like the Franks. 

We definitely have seen an increase in people who have fallen on hard times, Naser said. Generally speaking, our food program has increased 41 percent in the last three fiscal years. Just in the economic downturn, its steadily gone up. We seem to have leveled off in this higher level. It hasnt gone down.

Since 1969, ALIVE! has liaised with area social workers to identify those struggling to make ends meet. Families and individuals referred to the community group receive canned goods, fresh meat and vegetables and the occasional dessert, Naser said. 

Monday through Friday, volunteers shuttle food for emergency cases. Once a month, the recipients come to ALIVE! to pick up a five-day supply of groceries. Though the need is always there, Naser has seen a sharp rise in new faces since the financial meltdown of 2008. 

Social workers are telling us that their casework is increasing as a result and were seeing some for the first time, Naser said. We had one case where somebody had been a volunteer and was referred to receive food. When she arrived, she saw that one of [her former co-volunteers] was working and was too embarrassed to get her package. We got her food during the Monday through Friday food distribution. She had lost her job and was there receiving food.

Funded through local congregations, Naser hasnt seen a decrease in donations to keep the organization running, but John Porter, executive director of the philanthropic nonprofit ACT for Alexandria, said donors are reemerging in the post-recession landscape. 

I think people are feeling a little bit more comfortable about the direction of things, Porter said. Those donors who in the past that have been fairly strong and may have held back a little bit are feeling a little bit more comfortable and getting more involved in returning to their pre-recession philanthropic contribution.

Unemployment remains high across the country and though the proximity to Washington insulated Alexandria from the worst of the recession, there are still plenty of people struggling to get by, Porter said. Joblessness likely is the number one factor driving the demand on Alexandrias nonprofits, he said. 

There are a number of families living from paycheck to paycheck and when you dont have that its not about cutting back, Porter said. Its about money for food, clothes, health care, taking care of your family.

The Franks hope the donations will continue after the holiday season passes by. Food and canned good drives dot the calendar around Thanksgiving, but tend to peter out, Maureen said. 

Sometimes I wish people would remember ALIVE! in June, Maureen said.

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