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Charities may face 'giving fatigue'

By Justin Boron

A lone Salvation Army volunteer rang his bell for the first time this week at the Kroger shopping center in Jonesboro, marking the beginning of this year's holiday season.

On Friday afternoon, several shoppers passed by the kettle without even glancing at it though. One elderly lady stopped to read the sign above the bell ringer's head. But she didn't donate.

Finally, Emily Gilbert emerged from the grocery store and placed a dollar in the kettle.

As part of the holiday spirit, she said she and her husband try to do it every time they pass one.

“We try to help people out because you never know when you're going to be in the same position,” Gilbert, 48, of Jonesboro said.

When so many turn a blind eye during the holiday season, it's kind hearts like Gilbert's that charity organizations say they depend on to raise money for the needy. But this year they may be up against more than The Grinch or Scrooge – they could be facing charity fatigue.

Given the amount already donated to two major Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts, some local and national charity efforts are facing the fact that the pockets of normally generous people might be a little emptier during the holidays this year. Nevertheless, they are optimistic that people will continue to remember the disadvantaged, if not be more magnanimous because of raised awareness from by the disasters.

That is appearing to be exactly the case in Henry County, said Denise Rodgers, who is coordinating Community Christmas.

“What I'm seeing is that we have more and more diverse donors,” she said. “The community has gotten galvanized from the relief effort.”

On the other side, Salvation Army is hoping it will be able to reach out to the 27,000 children and raise the $1.06 million it did last year, said Carla Daniel, the director of communications for the organization's metro Atlanta branch. But she said the group is scrambling to refill its food pantries that were depleted by the hurricane relief. And with sponsorship of its Angel Tree program coming at a slower pace than usual, she said, “(Charity fatigue) something we are definitely thinking of.”

By this time of year, Daniel said the Angel Tree program, which allows companies or individuals to donate gifts for disadvantaged families, typically has only a few 100 families without sponsors.

Instead, the organization has more than 2,500 left.

The Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services also is struggling to make headway on its gift donation program for its 450 children in foster care.

Laurence Nelson, the coordinator for that program, said he hasn't got an overwhelming response yet with only 130 children sponsored. But he said regardless of what people donated to help displaced families from the Gulf Coast, the community needs to remember to take care of their own.

“Definitely, we need to get to get these kids something for Christmas,” Nelson said.