US non-profit organizations are being dealt a double blow by the souring economy as the donations and funds that charities depend on shrink, while demand for their services soars.
Charity shops in particular have seen donations fall as the number of shoppers seeking a bargain has risen.
AdvertisementA non-profit body that collects used bicycles and sends them to people in developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America says it is becoming more difficult to gather up used bikes.
And ModestNeeds.org, which provides "well-timed financial assistance" to people in need, has seen a huge rise in applications from different would-be aid recipients than usual, said the philanthropic organization's founder Keith Taylor.
"Prior to the economic downturn, the typical applicant was a single-parent of two children who earned around 30,000 dollars a year -- enough to live on but not enough to save," Taylor told AFP.
"What we're seeing today is a massive influx of applications from people who have lost their jobs... and what they need is help to keep their car, their home, their basic services so that they can continue to look for work without losing everything they have," he said.
Keith Oberg, founder and head of Bikes for the World, which collects used bikes and ships them out to needy people in Africa and Latin America, and street children in Afghanistan, said collections in the state of Virginia last week brought in "modest" hauls of bikes.
"In previous years, we did collections with the county, but they cut their budget and with that went their twice-yearly environmental and recycling event where we would get 200-plus bikes," Oberg said.
"The collection in Fredericksburg, where we only got 50 bikes, was the smallest in four years," he added.
The other, organized by a Boy Scout, gathered 76 bikes.
Goodwill Industries is seeing more customers at its thrift stores, but they're going after fewer donations of inferior quality to those received before the economic crunch, spokeswoman Lauren Lawson said.
"More people come to Goodwill looking for a bargain, but we aren't getting as many donations because our donors don't have the items to give," Lawson told AFP.
The quality of donated goods has declined as the shifting economy pushes Americans to shun upscale chic and embrace the down-to-earth and cheap instead.
"The person who used to shop at Macy's might now be shopping at a discount store. So we're seeing a decrease in the quality of donated goods," Lawson said.
Habitat for Humanity, the charity that helps people build their own homes as one way of trying to eliminate homelessness, has felt the downturn both in the number of people applying for a home and at its ReStores, which sell used and new building materials, fittings and appliances at hugely discounted prices.
At the ReStore in Manassas, Virginia, demand has expanded but donations from corporations are contracting as construction and home fittings companies go bust.
"We're really concerned that many of the corporate donations are from businesses that are closing, which means there will be no more donations at all from them in future," said Traci DeGroat, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Virginia's Prince William county.
Meanwhile demand has risen "very significantly" as Americans opt to stay put in their homes in the depressed housing market and renovate on the cheap instead of selling, said DeGroat.
"Our sales are up more than 48 percent in revenue over last year," she said.
ModestNeeds.org is getting three times as many requests for help this year as last, and donations are not able to keep pace, said Taylor.
"We have an average contribution per donor of 100 dollars. The average applicant asks for 500-600 dollars, and their number is increasing. The donors just aren't keeping up," said Taylor, a former university professor.
The Salvation Army has been forced to shutter a charity shop in Colorado that raised money for a program that provided free treatment to people recovering from problems ranging from substance abuse to homelessness.
"Most of our thrift stores are run by Adult Rehabilitation Centers to provide the funds to give free treatment to people who need it," Diana Rodriguez, an administrative assistant at the Salvation Army in the city of Pueblo, told AFP.
"But the Colorado Adult Rehabilitation Center downsized, and when they did, they closed the Pueblo store," she said.
Rodriguez was unable to say how the Salvation Army would be able to continue to serve people in need in the largely working class city, which like many other US cities has been hard hit by the economic crisis.
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