Noe Valley Voice November 2001

Local Charities Say, 'Please Don't Forget Us'

By Millicent Mayfield

Nonprofit and charity organizations in San Francisco are bracing themselves for a long, cold winter in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

As people send dollars to relief efforts in New York and Washington, D.C., they may have less in their pockets to donate to local nonprofits and charity organizations. This fact, combined with shaky economic news, spells uncertainty for those who serve neighborhood communities around the city.

Charity organizations are quick to point out that they understand the needs on the East Coast and around the world, but they also want to remind donors that people living close to home need your support too.

"The generosity that has been outpouring in response to the terrorist attacks is amazing and is impressive as to what we can do," says Keenan Kelsey, pastor of the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street. Right now the church is "holding steady," she says.

The annual rummage sale in September raked in close to $100 more than last year. Donors are fulfilling pledges, and more people are putting money on the plate during services. Like other churches around the city, the Ministry has seen an increase in attendance as people search for answers to the attacks, and to the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan.

But will the church be successful in running an upcoming capital improvement campaign? "We have been flatly told that our efforts will be much more difficult after September 11," says Kelsey, who is in the process of interviewing capital campaign managers.

Other charity organizations are also pondering their futures in light of recent events.

"The enormity of what's occurred has kind of set things on the back burner," says Gustavo Suarez, spokesman for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, at 995 Market Street. "We are beginning to see an effect. The giving has dropped."

The AIDS Foundation provides direct service to about 3,000 people. Every year, 95,000 people call the organization's hotline, 4,000 participate in AIDS prevention workshops, and 25,000 people receive the group's publication.

"AIDS continues to be the greatest killer we've ever known globally," Suarez says. "The need for service is greater than ever."

The long-term effects of Sept. 11 will be easier to measure after the foundation's year-end campaign, due to begin in November, Suarez says. Until then, the dip in its telemarketing and direct-mail campaigns has served as an indication that people are directing their donation dollars elsewhere -- something other organizations are experiencing as well.

"We're still testing the waters to see what people's reactions are going to be," says Mason Jeffrys, development manager of Dolores Street Community Services at 938 Valencia Street. But he's worried that "much of that money is not going to be there."

Dolores Street Community Services, which is partly subsidized by government funds, runs a housing program for Latino day laborers, a 10-bed AIDS residence in the Castro, and a community center. Because city, state, and federal agencies are hinting at a potential economic shortfall, the center is appealing to its individual donors for support.

Mayor Willie Brown's office is currently conducting its budgetary review, but has yet to call for department cuts. The mayor's office maintains that no changes will occur to items already listed in the current budget cycle, according to Kelly Castagnaro, spokeswoman for the mayor. But the nonprofits that receive subsidies out of the city's general fund are still nervous about possible budget cuts in the future.

"For the next budget year, we're already being semi-warned of a leaner year," says Valorie Villela, director of On Lok's 30th Street Senior Services. The On Lok center raised donations to help victims on the East Coast, but in mid-October had only sold half of its expected ticket sales to its autumn fundraiser on Oct. 25.

Donors have either diverted their financial attention to terrorist attack relief efforts or are simply "not in the mood" and are still too shocked by the tragedy to react, Villela believes.

Even the toy drive conducted every year by San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 has received fewer checks in recent weeks. "All of the donations that have come in since the event happened to have been designated for the 9-11 disaster relief fund," says Sally Casazza, manager of the firefighters' office at 1139 Mission Street. The 9-11 fund, which reached $240,000, covers the cost of funerals for some of the New York firefighters and transportation for the families trying to attend them.

Casazza notes that applications for the toy drive are still available and the union will be distributing toys Nov. 26. New or nearly new unwrapped toys can be dropped off at any firehouse, including the two in Noe Valley: Station 11 on 26th near Church and Station 24 at 100 Hoffman Avenue.

As Dolores Street Community Services begins its fall appeal, it plans on addressing the tragedies on the other side of the country in relation to its own efforts here. "I think it's best [that] instead of just ignoring the problem, you need to acknowledge it with your donors," Jeffrys says.

While the nation mourns, charity organizations say they will continue to do their part by further serving and advocating for the needs of those close at hand.

"We are all looking to create community," says Kelsey. "The needs right at home are still there."