by Lynnette Curtis

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL Posted: Dec. 19, 2012 | 4:45 p.m.

It's feast or famine at local charities this holiday season, with some enjoying increased donations and others making do with less.

While charitable giving has rebounded somewhat nationally as the economy slowly improves, Southern Nevada's charities are still reporting a mixed bag at the time of year they go through immense quantities of food and other goods to make the holidays cheerier for the valley's neediest residents.

The Las Vegas Rescue Mission is among the more fortunate

“We are ahead in canned goods and food donations by almost 25 percent over last year at this time,” said Bob Brunner, executive director of the organization that offers shelter and recovery for homeless people, among other services.

More needy families and senior citizens received free food from the mission this year thanks to the stepped-up donations.

Meanwhile, cash contributions to the mission were almost identical to last year's, Brunner said. The Salvation Army hasn't been so lucky. The nonprofit recently closed three programs at its Owens Avenue campus, near Main Street, to cope with millions of dollars in debt – a decision officials there called “heartbreaking, devastating and difficult.”

The cost-cutting measure displaced about 75 homeless and mentally ill clients and put 27 people out of work. Other local agencies scrambled to absorb the clients.

The Salvation Army's woes have continued through the holiday season.

“We're just not getting the monetary donations we were getting before,” said Rhonda Lloyd, a Salvation Army major. The agency's well-known Red Kettle campaign is down $75,000 this year in the Las Vegas Valley, she said. But it's not all bad news. The agency's toy drives have gone well, Lloyd said, as “people have come out of the woodwork with toys.”

The Salvation Army helps provide holiday meals for about 1,700 local families, toys for more than 8,700 children under 12 and gift cards for nearly 1,050 teenagers. It spends more than $300,000 to brighten the holidays for local families. “We're doing it; I don't know how,” Lloyd said. “I'm praying for the money to come in.” Lloyd was unsure why donations were down so much. “I wish I knew,” she said. “I don't know if closing programs earlier in the fall has caused people to be concerned. But it's those monetary donations that kept those programs open.” General donations not related to Christmas are down between 8 percent and 10 percent this year, she said. Three Square Food Bank, which distributes food to nearly 600 program partners that feed the needy, experienced a slight decrease in donations this year. That is because food retailers became more efficient, resulting in less food to be “rescued” by the food bank, said Erica Thompson, director of corporate giving for Three Square. Retailers donate food that would otherwise go to waste for distribution to the needy. Despite the decrease, Three Square is on track to distribute 25 million pounds of food this year. “Our program partners continue to rise to the challenge to meet the increasing need in the community and we are deeply appreciative of their hard work and efforts,” Thompson said.

More Money, Less Food

Three Square is in the midst of its Fight Holiday Hunger program, which goes through December. Corporate partners match cash donations dollar for dollar during the program. Donations to Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada, one of the state's largest nonprofit social service organizations, were essentially even with 011 donations. While noncash donations – food and other goods – dropped this year, monetary contributions increased. “I think it is a sign the economy is getting better slightly,” said Leslie Carmine, a spokeswoman for the more than 70-year-old charity. Catholic Charities will distribute toys, gift cards and clothing to preregistered families over the next few days. On Saturday, 200 children will receive toys as part of a Winter Wonderland event sponsored by the Shane Victorino Foundation. Catholic Charities also continues to regularly distribute groceries to those in need from its food pantry at 1501 Las Vegas Blvd. North. “The more we receive, the more we can give out,” Carmine said.

Many local individuals and businesses make a habit of giving, especially during the holidays.

On Tuesday, employees at Discount Retail Store Services in southwest Las Vegas put together 1,000 gift bags for the Rescue Mission, The Shade Tree shelter for women and children, and other charities. The bags included gloves and hats, with coloring books and other items for the children. Jim Wichert, owner of the business development company, said he always has been community-minded: “Companies have a responsibility to the community to help people out, especially in hard times. Even when times are good, there are always people who need help.” The value of the gift bags totaled about $10,000. Brunner, the rescue mission's executive director, said such donations provide “a glimmer of hope and a ray of sunshine” to people who may not receive anything else this holiday season. “The joy is immeasurable when we are able to offer a brief respite from the concerns and stress of being in need and dependent upon others.”

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