For everything from medical care to diapers, more Tri-City families are turning to private charities for help to meet basic needs.
Area nonprofits are facing what Beverly Weber, CEO of United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties, calls a "squeeze from two directions," with less government funding of human and social services and greater demand.
When families can't get services through scaled-back state programs, they turn to charities, Weber said.
Sometimes it takes time to feel the effects of state and federal cuts, said Andrew Porter, Tri-City Union Gospel Mission assistant executive director.
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"The need is continually going up, and I don't suspect it's going to get any better," he said.
State slashing of the Basic Health Program in July cut some people off health insurance and even more could join the ranks of the uninsured if the state eliminates the program, said Mark Brault, board president of Grace Clinic. The clinic provides free health care to uninsured Benton and Franklin county residents who are at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.
Some small employers have dropped health insurance programs because of the expense and employees have opted out of health insurance for the same reason, Brault said.
"We meet part of that, but we can't keep up with the growth and the demand," he said.
Patient visits were up 15 percent this year, at about 6,300, and Brault said they hope to match that growth next year.
That will be possible after the clinic moves from Clearwater Avenue to the Benton Franklin Health District's old building on Canal Drive in Kennewick in late spring. The move will mean additional space that will allow the nonprofit to serve more of the uninsured, Brault said.
Some of the state and federal funding Community Action Connections, or CAC, uses for housing and utility aid will be lower in 2012. And Executive Director Judith Gidley said she is expecting unemployment in the community to increase the demand for help.
Donations remain unchanged, and every penny goes into direct services, such as paying for life-sustaining prescriptions, Gidley said.
Columbia Industries also is waiting to see how the state's budget will shake out.
Kay Hamilton, Columbia Industries director of program operations, said the group helped 75 people with job training and 80 with job searches -- about the same as last year.
State funding that helps offset job training costs is at risk, and may be cut by 15 percent, she said. And if the state redefines eligibility, some of their clients no longer will meet the criteria for services.
Nationwide, about 65 percent of charities also saw an increase in demand in 2011, and only5 percent reported a decrease, according to a study released in December by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative.
But donations are down everywhere, with28 percent of charities seeing fewer donations, according to the study. And of the 55 percent of charities that receive government funding,54 percent saw cuts in government funding.
Generosity is one of the things that United Way's Weber says sets the Tri-Cities apart, and that is why she remains optimistic about the ability of nonprofits to meet needs.
"This community has always been incredibly generous and always just finds a way to reach deeper into their pockets to help those in need," Weber said.
United Way raised $4.5 million for services last year, more than the previous year. And Weber said the group already is at about $3.2 million of its $4.7 million goal for the fundraising campaign that ends in March. The money supports 39 programs provided by 22 agencies.
YMCA of the Greater Tri-Cities subsidizes the cost of serving each child who receives child care using the United Way funding and community donations.
Fewer children are being served in YMCA's childcare programs, but Executive Director Steve Howland said that is because of state cuts, not demand.
There are about 300 children in the agency's before-and-after school programs in the Kennewick School District, and another 50 are in preschool -- a drop of about 75 kids.
The agency's pool of money for scholarships was tapped out in the first week of registration this year, Howland said. The state made cuts to who qualifies for child care aid, and that meant more families needed scholarships.
Food agencies also are feeling the demand.
Anne Montgomery, founder and director at Pasco's Golden Age Food Share, said the food bank is serving the most families it has since it opened 14 years ago, averaging about 460 families a week.
"We will just hope that we can handle it," she said.
The cost of food and medications are going up, and senior families on fixed incomes are having a hard time stretching their limited dollars, she said.
But the community has come through with donations so far, Montgomery said. She was worried about Christmas, but said area churches and Northwest Harvest in Yakima stepped up and helped the food bank feed families for the holiday.
The Tri-City Union Gospel Mission also is feeding more families on a daily basis. The mission's Porter said that for Christmas, the mission fed about 600 families, several hundred more than the previous year.
The mission's homeless shelters have been full this year, with the largest demand increase in housing for women and children, Porter said.
While needs have increased, giving has too, with donations growing by about 15 percent. And the mission continues to receive about$1 million in in-kind gifts, mostly of food, Porter said. The 2012 budget is $1.4 million, about $100,000 more than the 2011 budget.
Porter plans to add more case management services in 2012. That is possible because the mission has added two staff to the women's shelter, and plans to add a third this month, he said. One employee will be added to the men's shelter to provide similar services in 2012.
But it will be difficult to create similar programs in the men's shelter because of lack of space until after the new shelter is built, Porter said. He expects construction won't start until 2013.
Adra Johnson, director of the Tri-Cities Diaper Bank, has big plans for the charity's second year of life.
The diaper bank has seen an increase in demand, partially because more people discovered the new group, which was formed out of Adventist Community Services about a year ago. And as donations came in, Johnson said they were able to give enough diapers to meet about 25 percent of a child's monthly need instead of just three days.
This year they have helped about 2,000 children by providing diapers to area agencies, including CAC and Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery.
They have given out 50,000 diapers in one year, and Johnson hopes to triple that in 2012.
"It sounds like a big number, but the need is much bigger than that," she said.
And thanks to an $18,000 grant from Women Helping Women and other community support, Johnson said it is doable.
In the coming year, Johnson hopes to develop a program to get diapers to women who need them to get their children into licensed child care. That will help the parent be able to work, attend school or receive job training, she said.
After all, diapers are the most basic essential clothing a young child needs, Johnson said.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; email@example.com