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Holiday Meals a Stretch This Year

Hard times bring drop in donations, increase in demand. Some groups shift resources to help assure Thanksgiving dinners for the needy.

November 27, 2002|Rodney Bosch | Times Staff Writer

Dwindling private donations have some area charities scrambling to feed a mounting number of needy families and homeless for the holidays.

The shortage has grown so acute this year that one charity had to turn down dozens of food-basket applicants and another will have to cut back services elsewhere to feed the hundreds expected to show up for a meal today.

"Fund-raising has been very slow," said Carol Roberg, executive director of the Ventura County Rescue Mission in Oxnard. "A bulk of our funds are raised during Thanksgiving and Christmas -- and we are down 25%."

Beginning at noon today, the privately funded mission will serve more than 500 pounds of turkey to its disadvantaged guests.

"Last year, we served about 600 people," Roberg said. "And the numbers just keep going up each year."

While Roberg said budgetary shuffling will allow the mission to feed all its guests today, the drop in funds will hurt elsewhere.

"The loss of funding will affect our growth," she said. "We simply will not be able to hire more people and provide as many services."

Like Roberg, other charity workers around the county cited grim economic conditions as a likely contributor to the shrinking pot of donations.

Meanwhile, those same economic pressures are forcing more county residents to seek charity, said Pat Esseff of Catholic Charities in Ventura. Catholic Charities offices around the county spearhead volunteer efforts to provide food baskets to mostly needy families, regardless of religious affiliation.

"There is an ever-greater need for donations," Esseff said. "People are so conscious that their dollar just isn't going far enough, and so they are needing to tap into a service they didn't have to before."

Earlier this week, volunteers delivered 250 Thanksgiving food baskets around Ventura, Esseff said. Last year, about 185 food baskets were distributed. The rising demand for assistance would have driven this year's distribution much higher, Esseff said, but resources were quickly tapped out.

A waiting list was formed, but in the end it was left untouched, she said.

"That is the worst part of what we do here, telling someone, 'I'm sorry, we can't help you,' " she said. "It reaches a point [where] a waiting list is just a waste of time."

Dahlia Bolo, a case manager for Catholic Charities in Oxnard, cites a similar refrain of ballooning requests for assistance and enormous pressure on dwindling resources.

But, for the Catholic Charities office in Oxnard, Bolo said, the cause of diminished resources reaches beyond donor belt-tightening.

Five substantial private donors to the Oxnard office withheld their contributions this year because of the sexual misconduct scandals in the Catholic priesthood, Bolo said.

"We had about 150 families seeking assistance that qualified for the program, but we didn't have the funding to help them," she said.

The loss of funding meant that only about 40 Oxnard-area families received food baskets this week, Bolo said.

At the Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army, a late infusion of donations from Kiwanis Club members saved the day, said business administrator Robin Campos.

A lack of funds threatened to prevent the branch from offering its usual two seatings at the Thanksgiving Day meal service. But instead of feeding less than 250 people, the branch now expects to serve more than 500 patrons Thursday.

"It's not a very nice thought having to turn people down who come to us on Thanksgiving for their only meal," Campos said.



Where to Find a Warm Holiday Meal

The following area charities will serve Thanksgiving Day meals on Thursday, unless otherwise noted:

Ventura County Rescue Mission, 234 E. 6th St., Oxnard, today, ceremony at 11:30 a.m., followed by meal service beginning at noon. (805) 487-1234.

Senior Nutrition will serve meals at 14 community and senior citizen centers around the county beginning at noon. Suggested donation, $2.50. Meals also will be delivered to residences today and Thursday. Suggested donation, $2.75. For the nearest location, call (805) 388-4317.

Ventura Theatre, 26 S. Chestnut St., in association with the faith-based organization Bridge Aid, 2 to 4:30 p.m. (805) 653-0721.

The Samaritan Center in Simi Valley, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, 280 Royal Ave. (805) 579-9166.

Veterans of Foreign Wars, 300 Surfside Drive, Port Hueneme, beginning at 1 p.m. (805) 488-4138.

Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army, 622 W. Wooley Road, Oxnard, will hold a worship service at 10 a.m. followed by a meal at 11. (805) 487-2074.

Ecumenical Ministry in Ojai, in association with the World University of America, will serve a vegetarian meal from noon to 2 p.m. at the university's campus, 107 N. Ventura St., Ojai. (805) 646-1444.

Ventura Salvation Army, 155 S. Oak St., seatings every 20 minutes beginning at 11:30 a.m. (805) 648-5032.

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