Christmas traditionally brings out generosity in Angelenos, but charitable giving isn’t following traditional patterns this season, or looking as promising as usual, according to local experts and nonprofit organizers.
The nation’s economic woes are taking a big toll on what we can afford to give the needy, they say, but social media networks are opening new avenues for philanthropy that are helping in ways not always easy to measure.
"The economic crisis has definitely affected the donations we normally receive," Genevieve Riutort of the Westside Food Bank told NBC LA. "People are still giving but not as much as they were four years ago."
The Food Bank distributes free foodstuffs to local assistance agencies, and works to reduce food waste in Western Los Angeles County.
But this past Thanksgiving, only 10 turkeys were donated, according to Riutort, as compared to an average of 50 birds in previous years.
"This was the only year we didn’t have people ringing our doorbells donating turkeys," she said. "It was extremely difficult and worrisome."
The adopt-a-family program organized by the Salvation Army of East LA is busier than ever, but donations needed for the 250 families it serves are becoming more and more difficult to come by, explained case manager Margarita Hernandez.
"Our goal is for all of the families to receive what they wish on their list," she said. "However, we understand it is a very difficult time. So there are some families that may receive more [or less] depending on the donor."
Then, there is the problem of rising demand resulting from more and more people being laid off and dumped into the poverty line. The Westside Food Bank, according to Development Director Riutort, is feeling the squeeze as never before.
For instance, while donations of canned and packaged food are at unprecedented levels, she said, so is the number of people in need of help.
Eighty-five percent of the Food Bank’s services, in her estimation, now go to formerly middle-income families who no longer have savings or other resources and whose only option is to go to food pantries.
And with unemployment still hovering at 11.9 percent in LA County, she expects the need to grow even more.
"While we have increased the distribution of food from our warehouse by over 30 percent," she said. "The need has increased by more than 750 percent at our member food pantries over the same period."
But if local charities and their beneficiaries appear to be taking a hit this season, part of the problem may be perception, and the emergence of new, more elusive ways of giving.
Steve MacLaughlin, director of Internet Services at Blackbaud, a development company specializing in software services for non-profits, points out that the traditional red kettle outside grocery stores is being upstaged in the charity chain by the Internet and social networking.
"One thing we have seen in our research," he told NBC LA, "is the use of social media and the way these non-profits are incorporating peer-to-peer fundraising into their organizations."
As he explained it, this means using friendly informal contacts, both on and offline to seek help, instead of relying solely on formal solicitation campaigns.
"It is a way for individuals and groups to raise funds on your behalf and encourage them to donate in their own networks and communities," he added.
Social media also appear to turning more and more young people into Good Samaritans, and according to MacLaughlin, that’s helped to shift philanthropy in new, less dollar-oriented directions, such as volunteerism.
"Boomers are more likely to donate with money," he said, "and then as you skew towards generation X and Y, there is an increase in those more interested in hands-on work."
By his reckoning, the organizations that most profit from the youthful trend towards volunteerism are Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, and the Salvation Army.
Not far behind is the LA Regional Food bank, according to Michael Espe, one of its directors.
"Volunteers are equivalent to 80 full-time staff members," he told NBC LA.
Last year alone, by his estimation, the organization recruited 25,000 volunteers, many of them young people, to help feed more than one million people in LA County.
The Food Bank’s website currently features a virtual food drive in which youthful volunteers celebrate the virtues of giving through customized web postings. And though such efforts cannot easily be quantified through the traditional accounting methods, they are having an effect nonetheless.
"Social media continues to grow," said Marjorie Crowley, director of philanthropy for the organization. "By donating money through virtual food drives, we are actually able to save money and purchase in bulk with a high nutrient content."
Want to help? Check out the following ways:
Westside Food Bank:
17170 22nd St.
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Turkey Donations and Volunteers 21+ needed for 3rd Annual Santa Monica Pub Crawl on December 12th and 17th
Contact: Allison Griffith, 310-828-6016 Ext. 12
Los Angeles Regional Food Bank:
1734 E. 41st St.
Los Angeles, CA 90058
Volunteer shifts available M-Sat.
Salvation Army East LA Temple:
Adopt-a-Family for the Holidays
140 N. Eastman Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90063
Adopt-a-Family: for more information visit:
Contact: Margarita Hernandez, 323-263-7577