COLUMBIA — Local charities are facing the holiday season this year with uncertainty about how they can meet community needs in a turbulent economy.
The Voluntary Action Center, celebrating the 25th year of its Adopt-A-Family program, still needs sponsors for 195 families. Last year at this time, 78 families needed sponsors, said project director Julia Treece.
The center is trying to provide for 1,187 families and individuals who signed up for Christmas assistance in October. Treece said she expects to register about 1,200 families.
"This year we're really worried about it," she said. "The economy is not good and obviously that means everyone is kind of tightening their belts a little."
According to Treece, the poor economy means two things for the center: more clients and fewer sponsors.
"Families are having a really hard time, and that means we have the clients but we don't have the giving, the same matching, that we've had in previous years," she said.
Sponsors are asked to buy one new gift for each child of the family, or for an elderly or disabled individual, and provide food staples. The suggested amount to spend is about $60 per person in a family.
The Salvation Army and the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department are seeing a similar dilemma.
The Columbia Parks and Recreation Department has held its holiday toy drive since the early 1990s, typically collecting about 240 toys a year. The toys are distributed to low-income families who registered earlier in the season.
Department supervisor Cameron Cross said the number of toys collected varies each year, but he feared there might be a decline.
"Certain places aren't offering the help they used to because of the economy, so right now it seems slow," Cross said, "but we haven't even hit Thanksgiving."
The Salvation Army's holiday programs include Coats for Kids, the Red Kettle Campaign, a toy collection and a Thanksgiving dinner. This year, the Salvation Army in Columbia hopes to serve about 400 families, or 1,200 people.
Salvation Army Major K. Kendall Mathews said he is worried that a decrease in donations to the Red Kettle Campaign will be felt throughout the upcoming year.
"Clearly needs are up, but how do we meet those needs when the economy is crumbling?" Mathews asked.
The Salvation Army's toy collection program, the Angel Tree, has 450 families registered. It operates like the city's toy distribution but includes food vouchers to Gerbes.
Toys are collected through drives at Columbia schools and from donations by community members at various stores. Mathews said donors might cut back, but he's still counting on their generosity.
"I think people are going to continue to give," he said. "Even though they may not have to give above and beyond, that doesn't mean they're not going to give at all."