Ernest Thomas used to fill people’s pantries, not rely on them to get by.
“I never thought I would end up here, but it happens,” Thomas said.
The former baker found himself out of the job after a heart attack. Now, Thomas turns to the shelves of the Salvation Army for help.
“I'm not the only one,” Thomas said. “There are a lot of people out there that are depending on this food pantry, especially right here in the neighborhood.”
Nearly 1,300 people came to the food pantry in February alone, but as the need is growing, the resource could soon be gone.
“And now, they're going to take the food pantry away from the people? What are these people going to do. It's hard. It's going to be really hard,” Thomas said.
That food pantry and other programs at the Salvation Army of Dane County are in jeopardy after the organization’s trademark fundraiser came up short.
“We're behind $285,000 as it relates to our budget,” Maj. Loren Carter of Salvation Army of Dane County said.
That’s the kind of deficit Carter said forces him to plan for cuts.
“We're at a point right now, if we don't get a substantial increase in some funds we will have to do some program reductions and maybe some positions lost,” Carter said.
Carter credited the short holiday season, fewer people carrying cash and more online shopping as possible reasons for the lack of fundraising. He said the organization has been challenged with similar issues all over the country.
Carter said the shortfall accounts for about 6 percent of the Salvation Army’s budget, and eliminating after-school programming, summer day camps and the food pantry are not out of the question.
“Whenever you start touching programs and positions, you're affecting people's lives,” Carter said, “I'd rather have my teeth pulled one by one than do this.”
Carter said the dire situation is forcing the Salvation Army to look at other ways to raise money. The organizations are working on ideas to enhance its online presence and push donations through websites.
“There is increasing donations coming through the Internet, but it's still relatively small compared to the whole,” Cater said. “But eventually, we'll have to deal with this cashless society.”
Marcia Whittington with Edgewood College worked in the nonprofit realm for 20 years. She said organizations should try not to rely on one big fundraiser, but rather diversify their efforts to appeal to a wide variety of donors.
“When you put all of your eggs in one basket and that may not achieve what you want it to do, it's really challenging if you don't have anything else to fall back on,” Whittington said.
Whittington added it can take years to successfully establish a new fundraiser that actually brings in money for the nonprofit.
“That transitional time is challenging, and we've all been through it, been through a time when the money isn't coming in as quickly as we want,” Whittington said, “But hopefully nonprofits are looking at making sure they have a rainy-day fund of some sort to fill in throughout those times when those transitional periods need to be there.”
Unfortunately, Carter said reserves were depleted over the past few years. Now, the only way to make up the money is to ask the community for sizable donations.
“At this very difficult moment, it could save us from having to make those kinds of cuts, but that is the reality we face today,” Carter said.
Thomas said while too many aren’t listening to the bells, someone is hearing his prayers.
“I trust God. I know he'll work things out for me,” Thomas said.