Charities Struggle Just When Needed Most The downturn in the economy is hitting some charities — which rely on donors — hard. A charity for battered women and homeless families, based in Arlington, Va., counted among its donors the who's who of the Wall Street meltdown.
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Charities Struggle Just When Needed Most

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Charities Struggle Just When Needed Most

Charities Struggle Just When Needed Most

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This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, telling bad news in a good way.

But first, the economic crisis is taking a huge toll on charities across the country. Donations are plunging, even as people who've never before been homeless or hungry are pouring into shelters and food banks. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty looks at what's happened to one charity outside of Washington, D.C.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Linda Dunphy gazes fondly at the Cape Cod house on this quiet street in Arlington, Virginia. It's painted avocado green with a purple door, easily the nicest house on the block and the newest. Dunphy is the executive director of Doorways, a charity for abused woman and homeless families. Four years ago, she says, she was talking with a large donor and mentioned that she wanted renovate the homeless shelter.

Ms. LINDA DUNPHY (Executive Director, Doorways): And he called me back three hours later, and said, how would you like $500,000 to help make that happen? I almost fell out of my chair. I said, Dean, you're just making my dream come true here.

HAGERTY: And thus was born the...

Ms. DUNPHY: Freddie Mac Foundation Family Home.

HAGERTY: Inside, we pass by picture windows and pastel-colored walls with classic moldings.

Ms. DUNPHY: The whole home has this cottage feel to it. We had an interior designer who donated her time. She's one of the top...

HAGERTY: We stop at an open kitchen with granite countertops and brand new Whirlpool appliances. It's big enough to accommodate the seven families currently staying here. The renovations were finished in flusher times, before Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were crippled by the mortgage crisis. And then more money dried up - money from other foundations, government and individuals.

Ms. DUNPHY: That's like a triple whammy to the non-profits.

HAGERTY: In every city, charities have their big benefactors. In the Washington area, it was Fannie and Freddie. They gave $47 million to local charities last year. When they went into conservatorship in September, Dunphy says her heart sank. Freddie Mac had promise Doorways $300,000 to operate the home and other programs next year. Now, all bets are off.

Ms. DUNPHY: We're kind of a little anxious about whether or not we're going to get this money, whether we'll get all of it or some of it or none or it.

HAGERTY: Dunphy says Fannie and Freddie are the tip of the iceberg. As exhibit A, she picks up a letter from another donor, which had given $15,000 the year before.

Ms. DUNPHY: This letter tells me - it was dated June 2nd - that at this time we are not able to act favorably on this proposal.

HAGERTY: And it gets worse. For example, Dunphy raised a lot of money last year from corporate donors for the annual walk for the homeless - donors which turned out to be a who's who of the Wall Street meltdown.

Ms. DUNPHY: Gifts from Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and this year we are going from a budget of $60,000 that we were hoping to receive to ten.

HAGERTY: If this keeps up, Dunphy says, they could face a half-million-dollar shortfall in a $2.6 million budget. She says the safe house and family home will survive, but other programs may not.

Ms. DUNPHY: And then moving down to the secondary expenses.

Ms. CARA PANZARALLE-TARA: Yeah, the $490 clothing, we put in hundred.

HAGERTY: Cara Panzarella-Tara sifts through a projected monthly budget with Fannie, a client who fled her abusive husband last year. She and her two young children came to Doorways homeless and desperate.

FANNIE: Because I was living in a room and sleeping In a air mattress with my children. I was about to go back to him. I said, I mean, take me back. .I.TEXT: HAGERTY: Financial insecurity is a major reason women return to abusive partners. But Doorways secured an apartment for Fannie, and every week counselors meet with her about her budget, her children and her job search. I tell her that the bad economy might force Doorways to shut down programs like this one.

Ms. PANZARELLA-TARA: Oh, my God. I don't even want to think about it.

HAGERTY: Which is how Linda Dunphy feels, too.

Ms. DUNPHY: It's like you're in the Himalayans, constantly going up the hill and down the hill and up the hill and down the hill. And it's a journey, and you just got to take one day at a time.

HAGERTY: The irony is that the need for charities is rising even as donations fall. Dunphy notes that domestic abuse spikes during hard economic times, driving more women and their children to the shelters and safe houses that Doorways maintains. Last week, she says, they turned away seven families. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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