Vail Valley economy: Nonprofits feel the pinch
Daily Staff Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” The slowing economy’s trickle-down effect has made its way into the Vail Valley, and businesses aren’t the only ones feeling the sting.
As layoffs become more common and the county and state’s unemployment rates keep climbing, the nonprofit organizations and public services take a big hit, too.
The local Salvation Army sees the signs of a bad economy not only in the number of people who come to the organization for help, but in the types of people who need help.
“It’s not just low-income people anymore,” said Tsu Wolin-Brown, the Salvation Army’s executive director. “(Our case load) has just gotten huge.”
The organization typically takes in about 60 to 70 cases every month. Since August, however, its been handling more than 100 a month. Wolin-Brown said so far the organization is handling the extra need, but she isn’t sure how much longer they can survive the increased demand.
“It’s going to be very hard as our reserves dwindle, and they’re dwindling,” she said.
Luckily, she said, the people in the valley have been very generous with their donations to the organization.
Nonprofits throughout the valley tend to work very closely together, as well as with the county’s health and human services department. When the Salvation Army can’t help someone with one thing, it will put them directly in contact with the organization that can.
“We’re all in constant communication,” said Karen Simon, executive director of the Vail Valley Charitable Fund.
The Charitable Fund, which helps local families with large medical debts, used to handle about four to five cases a month ” since November it’s gone up to at least 10 a month and as high as 15 in one month. Simon has also noticed that people looking for help don’t all fall under the same income bracket anymore.
“I think, at least for our organization, this economic downturn has showed a lot of people that these struggles can affect anybody,” Simon said. “I think it’s easier for people to empathize with that now.”
The Eagle County Department of Health and Human Services had gradual increases in demand throughout 2008, but the increases were dramatic in just the first three weeks of 2009, said Suzanne Vitale, director of the department.
“We usually have about 150 walk-in clients a month,” she said. “In the first eight days of 2009 we saw 115.”
She said the department has gone into “essential services mode,” meaning anything that it funded before that was discretionary has been pushed aside.
Still, she says she thinks the department, as well as the county, is in a good position thanks to the special fund the county commissioners put aside.
“People are thinking outside the box in a coordinated way,” she said. “Everyone is poised to be here to help people in the county who need it.”
And people need it more than the county has ever seen.
Even places like the Habitat for Humanity Home Outlet store see it ” there are more customers browsing through the used furniture and other items in the store, said Kristi Moon, Habitat’s Home Outlet director.
The good news is that donations are still pouring in, and the quality of the items are great, she said.
Money is one thing people aren’t donating as much of these days, though. And it hurts more than ever because as the cash donations go down, the demand is just going up.
The Youth Foundation recently canceled a fundraising event because the nonprofit just didn’t sell enough tickets, said Katie Bruen, spokeswoman for the Youth Foundation, a nonprofit that helps at-risk children and teenagers throughout the valley.
While the organization hasn’t cut back on any of its services, it’s not expanding anything either, she said.
Simon is running the Vail Valley Charitable Fund under the assumption that the economy will turn around, and soon.
“We have no trouble meeting demand, yet,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.”
If things don’t turn around, that mentality will have to change, said Wolin-Brown. Organizations will have to start prioritizing more if the demand continues to increase, she said.