Urban Ministries adapting to recession

Anne Burke
Anne Burke

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — With the recession fueling demand for services and putting stress on its finances, Urban Ministries of Wake County has streamlined its programs and spending.

Urban Ministries has seen big increases in clients at its expanded food pantry and in patients at its expanded free clinic, both housed in new headquarters the agency occupied two years ago at 1390 Capital Blvd. in Raleigh.

Urban Ministries just concluded a three-year capital campaign that raised $5.3 million to buy and renovate that facility.

While the expansion of the pantry and clinic accounts for some of the increase in demand, the economic downturn also has left more clients in need, with waiting lists growing at the clinic and at the agency’s shelter for women on Cabarrus Street across from the Amtrak station.

“It’s the impact of unemployment and the loss of health insurance,” says Anne Burke, executive director at Urban Ministries.

The good news is that, despite the recession, the agency was able to collect all funds pledged to the campaign, she says.

And building on the strategies it used in the campaign, Urban Ministries this year aims to launch its first formal annual fundraising effort, and plans to begin initiatives to solicit major gifts and planned gifts.

“When people understand our mission, and we can bring them in here to see what we are doing day to day, we have the potential to raise some major gifts from individuals in the community,” Burke says.

Urban Ministries also has taken steps to reduce spending, cutting its annual budget to $1.8 million for the fiscal year that began July 1 from $2.1 million for the fiscal year just ended.

Those cuts include a salary freeze and elimination of a program that provided financial assistance to help 450 people a year pay their past-due rent and utilities bills.

The agency also has cut spending in other areas such as training, travel and supplies.

“We’re just going to run even more tightly than we have been,” Burke says.

Urban Ministries’ new headquarters served 23,000 individuals through its food pantry in the fiscal year just ended, up from 12,000 two years ago.

Fifty-five percent of pantry clients in the most recent year had never visited the pantry before, Burke says.

Overall, through 240 tons of food it distributed in the most recent fiscal year, the agency provided over 440,202 meals to needy families.

To help keep up with that demand, the pantry reduced to 10 days from two weeks the supply of food it provides per client, each of whom can visit the pantry only once every three months.

The agency also handled nearly 10,000 patient visits at its new free clinic, up from 3,500 two years ago.

The clinic more than doubled in size, to 7,000 square feet from 3,000 square feet, and was open for 12 four-hour sessions a week, up from five sessions.

But the clinic still cannot handle over 3,000 people who want medical services, Burke says.

At Urban Ministries’ women’s shelter, the average stay has grown to four to five months from two months, and the waiting list has soared to 38 to 40 women a night from seven to eight women a night a year ago.

“When the economy is bad, the poorest people typically don’t have access to employment because people with education who lost their jobs are picking up the lower-paid jobs,” Burke says. “And so the women who come to the shelter are out of work longer than they used to be, and it’s so much more difficult for them to find a job.”

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