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‘Giving fatigue’ weighs on local charities in winter months

The Wayside Waifs animal shelter in south Kansas City takes in more than 40 percent of its yearly regular donations in just the fourth quarter. But the shelter’s Casey Waugh (shown giving a treat last year to Tally the dog) points out that “there is a need year-round.” Wayside Waifs is at 3901 Martha Truman Road.
The Wayside Waifs animal shelter in south Kansas City takes in more than 40 percent of its yearly regular donations in just the fourth quarter. But the shelter’s Casey Waugh (shown giving a treat last year to Tally the dog) points out that “there is a need year-round.” Wayside Waifs is at 3901 Martha Truman Road.

The decorations are down, and the festive food is long gone, but local charities are hoping Kansas City area residents will keep the holiday giving spirit.

Although many organizations see a significant uptick in donations during the holidays as people are in a giving mood and are locking in end-of-year tax deductions, that’s traditionally followed by a notable drop in January, February and March.

Area charities not only experience a decline in donated items and cash gifts this time of year, but it’s harder to round up volunteers to keep up with sorting groceries and clothing, pitching in on remodeling projects and even dusting the shelves at public libraries.

Some charities are using social media to get the word out to people of what they need, and have noticed quicker and immediate impact. Businesses, too, are targeting some of their charitable giving programs for after the holidays.

It’s all in an effort to combat giving fatigue.

“I think some people are trying to recover from the Christmas season of buying gifts for their own families,” said Dustin Hardison, director of stabilization and housing for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas.

Hardison estimated Catholic Charities receives 30 percent of its donations in November and December, but January and February usually are the lowest months for donations.

At Synergy Services, which provides shelter to children and trauma treatment programs, executive director Robin Winner said that 80 percent of their public donations for the year come in during November and December.

“I think people certainly think about giving more during the holiday season … people just get in the habit of doing gifts at the end of the year. We’re extra grateful for that,” said Winner.

At Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas, “the quantity really drops off after the new year,” said Suzanne Gunning, vice president of community engagement. “We see a spike, and then it falls off a little bit, and we try to make sure that those donations will sustain us until the next spike, the next closet clean-out.”

Despite the January dip, Gunning said Goodwill’s Overland Park thrift store at 135th Street and Metcalf Avenue is one of the top stores for donations in the country.

At the Wayside Waifs animal shelter in Kansas City, officials said they took in 42 percent of their regular donations during the fourth quarter, with 67 percent of that money coming in December.

“I think (the holiday giving spirit) is all about taking care of one another… and that makes people more charitable. The sad thing is there is a need year-round,” said Casey Waugh, communications and annual giving manager for Wayside Waifs.

Johnson County’s diaper bank, Happy Bottoms, received 45 percent of its 2016 donations in November and December. That compared with the 24 percent of their annual donations received in January through March last year, according to Jill Gaikowski, interim executive director.

“Our corporate and our group foundation (donations) actually increase at the beginning of the year, but individual (donations) decrease,” she said.

Although most organizations try to plan their budgets to accommodate uneven giving trends throughout the year, the stop-and-start flow of donations can affect the services charities are able to provide.

Rebuilding Together Clay County makes home repairs and builds accessibility features such as wheelchair ramps and grab bars for low income, disabled or elderly residents in and around Clay County. The lull in donations in the early months of the year can curtail what they’re able to do for clients.

“When you get to this time of the year when funding gets tight, you provide your services as funding is available,” said Clay McQuerry, executive director. “You have to wait for grants and donations.”

Those home repairs can mean the difference between aging in place and being homeless, McQuerry said.

Sometimes, it’s not just about the amount of donations but the type of donations. At Safehome’s domestic violence shelter, Janeé Hanzlick, president and chief executive, said that during the holidays, they see a huge increase of donations such as toys and other presents, but when donations drop off in January, they’re hurting for more basic staples.

Those items include toilet paper, tissues, diapers, paper towels, wipes and personal care items.

“We have needs going on all throughout the year that aren’t as fun as buying toys and gifts, but they are critical to help people build lives without domestic violence,” Hanzlick said.

At Rebuilding Together Clay County’s store in Liberty, officials are always looking for building materials, such as lumber, light fixtures and doors that they can either use to help clients or sell to buy the right materials for the job.

In-kind donations are very important to Wayside Waifs, where they always need toys for the animals and basic supplies, such as kitty litter.

For the children’s shelter and homeless aid programs at Synergy Services, they’re always looking for socks, warm hats, glove, blankets, twin sheets and towels. They also collect children’s books and baby items for their programs supporting teen mothers.

“We pretty much need everything,” Winner said.

Local charity leaders said they understand that people either get into the holiday mood to donate more or are trying to make donations to count on their taxes before the end of the year, but steady giving throughout the year helps them budget better.

Local businesses pitch in to help when they can. At all three Bag & Baggage stores in Johnson County, customers can bring in used suitcases and receive a credit on the purchase of a new suitcase. The stores take many of the used bags and donate them to Safehome and the Rose Brooks Center.

“They’re always in need of that for the women who show up” to the domestic violence shelters with just a paper bag, said Erin Leonard, general manager of the stores.

Last year, Bag & Baggage received about 700 suitcases, and at least half were in good enough shape to donate to the shelters.

Although many charities accept donations of food, clothing and other items, sometimes they need the financial donations to take care of needs they can’t fulfill through donations.

At Catholic Charities, Hardison said some of their clients need either very small or very large sizes of clothing and shoes that they don’t see much of in the donations, so the charity buys them specifically for the client. Donations also go toward helping people pay heating or medical bills.

Many charities encourage their donors to become part of a monthly giving program, rather than donating one lump sum, because it can help organizations budget if they know the money will be steadier throughout the year. The Best Friends Monthly Giving Program at Wayside Waifs has about 500 members so far, the organization said.

Volunteering time is one method of donation that doesn’t always decrease with the start of a new year, some organizations report. At Happy Bottoms, Goodwill and Safehome, the numbers of volunteers are fairly steady year-round.

“We do have a lot of people show interest toward the end of the year, but the actual number of individuals who are coming into the building is fairly similar throughout the entire year,” Waugh said of Wayside Waifs.

However, Catholic Charities sees a dip in volunteers this time of year, but Hardison attributes that to the cold weather more than anything else. When the work takes place outside, as much of the tasks at Rebuilding Together Clay County do, it does affect the number of volunteers.

Social media has become one of the key ways charities get the word out about specific needs to the community.

A few weeks ago, Wayside Waifs ran out of treats to give the animals, so they put a call out on Twitter and Facebook for help. By that afternoon, people were already coming in with boxes of treats to help, Waugh said.