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Local Non-Profit Sector Struggles Through Recession

Many residents and businesses in the Ozarks have been affected by the downturn in the nation’s economy. KSMU’s Matt Evans spoke with some local non-profit organizations to identify the effect of the recession on them.

Reporter: “Right now I’m standing in the Convoy of Hope warehouse where a forklift operator is moving around boxes that will eventually be shipped to Malawi to aid starving children. Convoy of Hope is one of several Springfield not-for-profit organizations that have been feeling heat because of the recession.”

“The economic downturn, I think, has hit non-profits in general kind of hard.”

Jeff Nene is the director of communications for Convoy of Hope. He says Convoy of Hope has been fortunate. Donations are almost the same as what they were last year, because many donors have stepped up and given more while other donors weren’t able to give as much.

Although Convoy of Hope is holding steady with its donations, the organization is struggling to keep up with an increased workload.

“We go into communities and all of a sudden the need is a lot greater than it has been in times past.”

Convoy of Hope isn’t the only organization in Springfield that has seen such an increase.

“We have a lot of people coming in that have never had to access help from an agency like this before.”

Rorie Orgeron is the CEO of The Kitchen, Incorporated. The Kitchen operates the Missouri Hotel, which provides housing for the homeless. It has had no vacancies for the past year and a half and has had to start a waiting list that sometimes exceeds 100 people.

At the Kitchen’s food pantry, 500 new people came in for help in the past year. The Kitchen’s medical clinic has also seen a steep increase in patients; Orgeron says the clinic saw an increase of 8,000 people needing medical care over the past year.

At the same time, the Kitchen has had a decrease of 15% in cash donations. However, Orgeron is staying positive.

“The Springfield area is a very caring community. So, I think we’ll probably come through it okay. It will just take a little time to work through.”

Another non-profit organization that is seeing some hard times due to the sour economy is Habitat for Humanity.

“Our typical community partners are feeling the crunch right now, as everyone is, and they’re trying to hold back a little bit on their giving.”

Melissa Griffin is the marketing and communications coordinator for Habitat for Humanity in Springfield. In 2007 and 2008, Habitat for Humanity had record years building 10 and 11 houses, respectively.

Griffin says in 2009, Habitat for Humanity will not be building as many homes. Instead, the organization will be starting “Project Re-habitat.” With “Project Re-habitat,” Habitat for Humanity will take donated properties and rebuild or renovate the current houses. Griffin, like Orgeron, is trying to remain positive and look for new opportunities.

“The way that we do our building is changing right now because of the recession, but at the same time, we’re not down and out.”

The Ozarks Regional Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving lives in the rural Ozarks, is also being affected by the recent economic downturn. Ted Quirk is the executive director of the Ozarks Regional Foundation.

“Certainly it has had a detrimental effect because it has hampered donations.”

Quirk sees the recession as a double-edged sword. He says because of the negative job market, many highly-talented, skilled, and dedicated people are having a hard time getting jobs and have started looking for alternative, temporary opportunities. Quirk says his organization has seen an increase in the amount and impact of volunteers.

“We’ve been delighted with the number of people who want to get involved in our efforts and the quality.”

Meanwhile, over at Habitat for Humanity, Griffin says this trend of an increase in volunteers is evident there, too.

“We’ve had many people call and say they have tons of experience in different aspects of building and that’s been a huge help for us.”

Despite the poor economy, these four local non-profits say they have not had to lay off employees yet.

For KSMU News, I’m Matt Evans.