GREENSBORO, N.C. — In December, faced with rising demand fueled by the deteriorating economy, the homeless shelters at Greensboro Urban Ministry and Salvation Army of Greensboro turned away a total of over 100 people it could not accommodate overnight.
Demand for food from hungry people also was soaring at local pantries such as the Servant Center, which late last year was serving 1,200 to 1,500 people a month, compared to 800 people a month it had been serving before the economic downturn.
As the Rev. Mike Aiken, executive director of Urban Ministry, characterized the problem at a meeting of social-service agencies United Way of Greater Greensboro convened in December, the looming recession was creating an “economic hurricane.”
“We were comparing it to when Katrina hit, when you talk about hundreds of people in the shelter overflow, hundreds of people who need food,” says Ann Pinto, vice president of community investment at United Way.
Having decided to launch a special drive to raise funds to help address the rising demand for food and shelter, United Way convened that December session with eight agencies that handle a big share of local emergency food and shelter needs.
The agencies spelled out how they would use the funds and also urged United Way to set aside funds for emergency financial assistance to help people pay for needs such as rent or utilities.
“It’s far better to keep someone in their homes by bridging that need relative to rent, utilities and food, versus showing up at a shelter for service,” Barsuhn says.
United Way worked with partners to identify key agencies, promote the fundraising effort and handle administrative processes in allocating funds.
Partners include the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, News & Record, WFMY News 2, Dick Broadcasting, City of Greensboro and professionals with expertise in emergency food, shelter and assistance.
Because of the urgency of the rising demand for services, United Way launched the special drive while its annual fundraising campaign still was in progress
In early January, that annual campaign still was roughly $2.5 million short of its $13 million coal, and the special Operation Greensboro Cares had raised $374,000.
Barsuhn says the special fundraising effort has not affected the annual campaign, for which United Way had completed most of its solicitations by December.
“These were gifts from donors who never gave before or who gave above and beyond” their contributions to the annual campaign, he says.
Funds raised for Operation Greensboro Cares include roughly $125,000 contributed by over 500 donors in gifts ranging from $25 to $10,000, and roughly $250,000 contributed by companies and foundations in gifts ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
In two rounds of grants so far, United Way has awarded $347,500, with 45 percent of it for emergency assistance, 30 percent for shelter and 25 percent for food, says Keith Barsuhn, United Way president.
United Way initially funded the eight agencies it first identified, and now is considering proposals from other agencies that say they need to serve more people.
Initiatives funded so far include WE, or “Winter Emergency,” a collaborative effort that includes Greensboro Urban Ministry, Salvation Army and five religious congregations.
The congregations provide overnight space for up to 120 homeless people the agencies’ shelters cannot accommodate, along with food, transportation and volunteers to coordinate the effort.
And two additional congregations are prepared to handle more homeless people if demand increases.
And after making an initial grant of $30,000 to Salvation Army, which had said it could use $100,000 to provide rising demand for emergency assistance, United Way
now has allocated another $30,000 for the agency.
Pinto, who joined United Way in December after serving as administrative director for LaBauer Healthcare, a unit of Moses Cone Health System, says Greensboro is a “very caring community, a very philanthropic community.”
A growing number of people in the community “have lost jobs and need to be safe and fed and not freeze to death on the street,” she says. “We rally around to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”