For 40 years, the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal has provided assistance for those in need in the 12 counties of the Diocese of Rochester. Although the 2009-10 appeal will begin amid a bleak economic outlook, organizers still hope donors will reach out to their neighbors in need by contributing to this year’s campaign, which has a goal of $50,000.
“I realize everyone is struggling, but $5 or $10 could mean a lot towards reaching the goal. Every little bit helps,” said Donna Stubbings, appeal coordinator and circulation manager for the Catholic Courier and El Mensajero Cat√≥lico.
Proceeds from the annual appeal, which will run from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28, will be distributed to the emergency funds of various Catholic Charities offices and other affiliated agencies throughout the diocese. These agencies, in turn, will distribute the funds to individuals and families facing short-term financial crises, in order to help them meet basic needs that cannot be funded through other sources.
“There are so many people out there who are trying and who don’t qualify for other assistance. This is a one-time deal for people that need money for transportation to look for a job, or for prescriptions because they have no medical coverage, or to keep their utilities on,” Stubbings said.
Christmas Appeal funds enable agencies to provide immediate assistance for people who can’t afford to wait for assistance through other programs, noted Karen Franz, general manager and editor of the Courier and El Mensajero. Someone who needs money to buy a prescription for a toddler with an ear infection can’t afford to wait several days for help, she noted, nor can a person who needs a bus pass in order to get to a job interview.
“This is something that is immediate and can help someone without having to go through a lot of red tape,” Franz said. “We really hope that even though everyone’s feeling the pinch, that people will try to step up and give a little something for these kinds of needs.”
Launched as the current recession began in earnest, the 2008-09 appeal fell short of its $50,000 goal, raising only $43,398.73, but appeal organizers nevertheless decided not to lower this year’s goal.
“The need certainly hasn’t decreased. In fact, it’s increased. What with the economy being what it is, more and more people are struggling and losing jobs and having trouble making their mortgage payments. There will be more people knocking on the doors of these agencies and looking for something to help them get by,” Franz said.
An influx of new donors likely would help the appeal reach its goal, Stubbings said. Last year 642 people contributed to the 2008-09 appeal, which garnered 135 fewer donors than did the previous year’s appeal.
“We have over 112,000 (Courier) subscribers, and 642 donors really are a drop in the bucket,” Stubbings said. “If everyone gave $5, we could get a half-million dollars. I’m not asking for that. I’d be happy if we could reach our goal.”
The average donation size for the 2008-09 appeal was $67.60, but some donors gave as little as $5 while others contributed as much as $2,000, she added.
An economic crisis usually hits low-income people harder than those in the middle and upper classes, so Christmas Appeal funds are especially valuable in times like this, said Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research at Rochester’s Catholic Family Center, one of the recipient agencies for Christmas Appeal funds. Catholic Family Center allocates a portion of the money it receives to people with immediate financial needs, and divides the other portion among 24 parish- and faith-based food cupboards in Monroe County.
“Food cupboards are really strapped. I think low-income people have less of a cushion than others,” Mich said. “People should know that their money goes to some very needy parishes and faith communities … and a little money goes a long way.”
The Christmas Appeal represents a very direct way for people to help others, Franz said. The Courier staff runs the appeal pro bono, so the only overhead cost tied to the appeal is the printing and postage for letters sent each year to previous donors. This year, those letters should be arriving in donors’ mailboxes the week of Thanksgiving, Stubbings said.
Since the size of the Christmas Appeal grants to individuals and families is relatively small , donors can make a difference in someone’s life with even a donation of $5 or $10, Franz said.
“It’s all helping people who have specific needs. (This campaign is not about) big, lofty aims,” she said. “The money donors give could buy the kid’s medicine or provide the money to give someone a bus pass. It’s a very direct means of helping people.”