Alexandria’s nonprofits confront rising demand

Alexandria’s nonprofits confront rising demand
(Courtesy Photo)

By Melissa Quinn 

With the economy still struggling, officials with local nonprofit Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically say demand for their services has spiked, straining their finances.

Since 2008 — when the recession started — the number of people in need of food locally grew by more than 35 percent, with more than 2,100 individuals seeking provisions in 2011. The organization, better known as ALIVE!, delivers about 40,000 pounds of food to clients each month through its food distribution programs.

Not only are more people seeking help, but the cost of food for ALIVE! has risen substantially too. The increased demand means two out of every three requests for aid are turned down.

“We’ve been told the economy is growing slowly and we should see a drop in numbers [of people seeking help], but we haven’t seen it and I don’t expect we’re going to see it soon,” said Executive Director Ken Naser.

The financial crunch isn’t limited to ALIVE! The last four years have been strenuous for nonprofits across the country, said John Porter, executive director of ACT for Alexandria.

“We’ve been noticing an increase in need and a dwindling resource base to meet that need,” Porter said. “The way the economy has been up and down these last four years, it has been a difficult time for people and a difficult time for nonprofits.”

Along with its food assistance program, ALIVE! hosts a preschool for children facing poverty, hoping to provide a quality education for those unable to afford the extra year of learning. The school aids families living below the poverty line — earning a yearly income of less than $22,900.

“I don’t know how a family of four can live in Alexandria on $22,900,” Naser said. “We want to make sure we’re helping a population avoid failure later in life.”

But the school remains constrained, lacking in size and location to serve more children. Additionally, the group is limited in its tuition support.

Before the recession, ALIVE! received a steady stream of funding and other resources. But many past supporters have tightened their belts and scaled back on spending, Naser said. In a few cases, once-generous donors are even seeking aid.

“During these difficult economic times, it is especially important to realize ALIVE!’s mission of helping people with emergency situations — as well as long-term needs — to become able to support their families and assume self-reliant roles in the community,” said Ellen Brown, the organization’s president.

While many of ALIVE!’s programs are cash-strapped, the group hopes to expand its family emergency program, which provides $260,000 each year to more than 1,750 families. The organization works to prevent families from falling into homelessness, though as the number of families looking for assistance increases, the dollars disappear quickly.

“The resources are going out faster than they’re coming in,” Naser said. “And if we’re not here helping, where are they going to turn?”

But Porter is optimistic things will turn around this year.

“The signs are encouraging,” he said.

And the generosity of city residents has played an instrumental role in keeping area organizations afloat.

“Alexandria is a very caring and concerned community,” Porter said. “Individuals, corporations and businesses understand that there are more people in need and that there are less resources to serve those folks.”

Founded in 1969, ALIVE! works with more than 42 religious congregations and boasts more than 700 volunteers. The organization remains the largest private safety net for those facing poverty in Alexandria.

“The challenges haven’t changed much, they’ve just gotten greater,” Naser said.