As more families are burdened with mounting bills and unmet social needs, the Los Angeles Times this week commences its annual Holiday Campaign to raise funds for Southern California charities that help disadvantaged children and youth.
Over the next several weeks, The Times will run a series of articles about children and families who have a growing need for food, clothing, shelter and a host of social services at a time of job cuts and demoralizing anxiety wrought by the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Holiday Campaign was established last year after The Times merged with Tribune Co. It is a part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund--which includes The Times' long-running Summer Camp Program--and is administered by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
Last year, the holiday appeal and matching funds from the foundation raised $35,787 for five charities serving Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The agencies helped by the Holiday Campaign provide a range of services, including programs to prevent drug abuse and violence, teen parenting education and early childhood literacy programs, and aid for mentally and physically disabled children.
"The Times Holiday Campaign captures the true spirit of the holidays," said Times Publisher John Puerner. "Donations help disadvantaged children and youth right here in Southern California, where the need remains great. The McCormick Tribune Foundation will match the first $500,000 in donations at 50 cents on the dollar, and the Los Angeles Times will absorb all administrative costs for the campaign. As a result, every dollar raised plus the match will go directly to worthy agencies serving children and youth throughout the five-county area."
The demands on charitable organizations in a region as populous as Southern California have always been great but have grown more acute as the economy has pounded airline, hotel and restaurant industries that traditionally provide a stable base for middle- and low-income workers.
In Los Angeles County alone, more than 35,000 jobs have been cut in recent weeks, according to economists, who predict a steadily climbing unemployment rate through the holidays. The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services estimates that more than a quarter of middle- and low-income residents don't have enough food to meet basic nutritional requirements.
At the same time, government funding is being stretched for programs like unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps and Medi-Cal, which millions rely on during economic hard times. And many charities worry that the outpouring of philanthropy for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks will mean less money for other worthy causes.
Bruce Rankin, executive director of the Westside Food Bank, one of last year's holiday fund recipients, said requests for food have increased 25% recently, with dozens of newly laid-off workers and their families showing up to get free groceries at pantries and church feeding programs. The most vulnerable to hunger are the children, said Rankin.
His agency normally distributes about 250,000 pounds of food each month, but recently has had to dip into reserves.
"We've just sent out a special appeal letter for donations, which we've never done before," said Rankin. "The demand is unprecedented in my experience. It's pretty dramatic."
The Holiday Campaign will collect donations through Dec. 31, but gifts received after that date will not be turned away.
HOW TO GIVE:
Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File# 56491, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6491. Please do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: http://www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign. All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $25 or more will be acknowledged in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise. For more information about the Holiday Campaign, call (800) LA TIMES, Ext. 75480.