Donations up, but gifts down for LIFT-UP | AspenTimes.com

Donations up, but gifts down for LIFT-UP

People were willing to open their wallets but not their imaginations when it came to helping the needy of the lower Roaring Fork Valley this year.

A major nonprofit group that helps feed the hungry and assists the poor raised considerably more money than last year. Donations to Garfield County-based LIFT-UP were up 34 percent over last year through Dec. 20, according to assistant director Janelle Weidler.

However, more than 1,700 requests went unanswered by the public in LIFT-UP’s Angel Tree toy drive and gift-giving program, she said.

People responded to an appeal for financial help. Last year, the organization collected $60,200 through the third week of December. This year contributors gave $80,700 during the same time period, she said.

LIFT-UP won’t have any trouble putting the extra $20,500 to good use. It had to dip into its cash reserves starting in July to keep its pantries stocked.

The organization operates offices in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, New Castle, Rifle and Parachute. An independent office is located in Aspen.

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One of its many services is to provide food for three days for families that find themselves in a tough situation. The need for food was increased to the point where LIFT-Up had trouble keeping up with demand.

Weidler attributed the higher demand to a downturn in the economy. Unskilled workers are having a particularly difficult time finding jobs. She said LIFT-UP has also found that Latinos continue to come to the valley but cannot find jobs when they arrive.

Overall, demands for services were up 66 percent through the third quarter of this year over 2001. The organization had assisted 7,071 people through one of its various programs as of Sept. 30.

The number of holiday food baskets distributed for Thanksgiving and Christmas were up in every town where LIFT-UP has an office, Weidler said.

There is still an opportunity to help with food distribution after the holidays. LIFT-UP has boxes out throughout the valley where nonperishable foods can be delivered.

“Everybody gives at the holidays but we need food all year long,” Weidler said.

LIFT-UP undertakes its most active fund-raising campaign around the holidays. It uses direct-mail pieces and its newsletter to appeal for donations. This year marked the first time the organization also used television commercials on cable channels such as ESPN.

Weidler said the advertising campaign apparently pulled in extra donations. People may have also been inclined to give more this year because of tougher economic times. History shows that Americans are at their most generous when times are tough.

So the mixed results of LIFT-UP’s annual Angel Tree program are perplexing. For that program, the age and sex of a child are written on an angel, which is then placed on a Christmas tree in a church or at some other location in the valley.

People are encouraged to select an angel and buy a toy or other gift that’s appropriate for the child listed, then return it to the tree. Nearly 4,000 children were signed up by their families for the program this year, up from 3,000 last year, said Weidler. And the majority of them received a gift from members of the public that selected an angel.

But about 1,700 of the angels were either not selected or they were selected but a gift wasn’t returned, Weidler said. LIFT-UP scrambled to provide gifts itself to make sure some of the children had a merry Christmas.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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