ECHO is in the midst of its 20th summer fund drive, Christmas in July, which was launched in 1996 when we had to shut down services because of increased need, limited resources, and growing awareness that many people think our business slows down after the holidays and in summer. It doesn’t slow down, and we experience a funding drought three of the four seasons in a year. In 1998, we added the component of Need Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation and extended the fund drive to other summer months. I can’t sugarcoat it. We are out of money and have been operating on a loan. As donations come in, we pay the bills first, and if any money is left, we pay some of the principal of the loan (in addition to the interest). There is no money in other accounts—no money stashed away. We do not deny services to people who we otherwise would have helped when we have funds in order to save money for later. We feel it’s just not right and can be a form of discrimination. Admittedly, this also puts us at risk of running out of money, but it is easier to explain to people why you are denying services when you are literally out of money and operating on a loan, and they understand that better. It is, of course, best to not be in that position.
Most years, we have to cut back on some services for short periods when donations are down. Our worst period is typically September – October. This year, it started in early February. We didn’t have enough carry-over from 2014 holiday donations. Also, funding the first half of 2015 is down 19% from what it was the first half of 2014. Local donations are down 34%, but our use of housing grant funds was up 64% – that actually means we will have less in the second half, because our total grant funding is not increased for 2015. Typically, our funding is 83% local and 17% grants. Of the local funds, 96% comes from churches, individuals, businesses and our fundraisers, and 4% comes from United Way.
ECHO’s local funding is down 19% from January – June 2015, compared to the same period in 2014 Church donations are down 32%. Donations from Faith-based Groups and Events are down 100% – we haven’t received our 25% of the CROP Walk donations raised; last year, Church World Service sent most of it by the end of June. Our Spring Dance wasn’t well attended and made little over the cost to put it on – there were some unexpected big conflicts, such as athletic teams making it to State, and a big fundraiser at JPAC that wasn’t scheduled when we picked our date for the dance. Other Contributors donations are down 40%. The Feinstein Challenge always helped us in this category in March and April. It wasn’t the grant we received from the challenge that made the difference; it was the spark it gave people – people like challenges. I indicated in our spring newsletter that Mr. Feinstein retired and ended the challenge.
The local economy is better – we can only guess why the numbers are down. We are not out on the streets at local businesses to collect funds from people as they shop, so we are not as visible, and we don’t get a feel for people’s resources, shopping activity or frequency. If you have heard anything, tell us. We can only surmise what people may be thinking or saying. Some people may think that we must be doing fine, because we are undertaking a big building project that is very visible. I described the additions, remodeling and the reasons they are needed to you in the spring newsletter. I also indicated in the newsletter and in various media
venue that this entire building project was evaluated, along with our good reputation for delivering services, and approved by a donor who requests anonymity. This donor is paying for the whole project, as described in a grant application submitted last summer. It was determined that ECHO needed this project to provide services more effectively and efficiently. None of this grant can be used for those services.
People may think we are doing fine, because people are streaming in for services, very visibly because of the construction forcing us to have the clients come in and out of the single door on Court Street. Food has to come through the main front door as staff, volunteers, donors, etc. Our Food Services cost us money to buy, transport and store, although a lot of food is also donated. Our Housing Services (Rent Assistance and Lodging) and Case management are our biggest costs.
Some people like to donate to agencies that fit niches they identify with, such as subcategories of the population:
low income or homeless children; the elderly; people who are homeless; families; single men; single moms; women who are abused; people with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities; veterans; people with medical needs; etc. ECHO helps all of them – all of the low-income population. Some of them may get some services elsewhere, but they all come here for many of their basic needs, such as a roof over their heads and food on theirtables.
Some people like to donate to agencies that focus on particular services, such as food; school supplies for youth; Christmas gifts for youth and families; bus tokens or gas cards for people to get to work; shelter for children, women, and/or men who are homeless; personal and household supplies; diapers and baby food; etc. ECHO provides all of those services, and we coordinate them with other services in the community.
Some people say – ECHO: that’s a nice place that helps people with food. That is a kind and true statement, but it doesn’t convey the message that it costs money to provide services. ECHO does the day-to-day work of meeting basic human need, simply because it exists, and ECHO works to address the underlying problems. For 46 years, ECHO has grown from being a food pantry to being a vital charity organization serving low-income families in our community with many services. The community has come to expect that ECHO will help low income families with many vital services. Usually, we are able to help them, after evaluating their needs and resources. In most cases, ECHO is a client’s last hope for assistance during a time of an emergency for that family.
We don’t have a fund development or marketing person on staff. Our overhead is low – 98% of donations go to direct assistance. The costs increase for food we provide, rents we pay, and many other support services and staffing. This requires a proportionate increase in support. ECHO projects an estimate of donations that will come in and what services will be provided. If cash flow slows down, we have to cut services.
ECHO has provided service to over 2,286 unduplicated, or different, households (HHs), with 9,200 people in those HHs, the first half of 2015. We are on track to serve at least 3,600 HHs, with over 14,400 people in those HHs, in 2015. Many of them come in monthly, but this count refers to counting them the first time.
Sustainability and perseverance shadow us at ECHO. Despite operating on a loan and cutting back services for 4-5 months already this year, we have persevered and provided over 1.6 million meals, 194 months of rent assistance, personal supplies to over 18,874 people, over 6,000 hours of case management, etc. in the first half of 2015. ECHO’s strategies are focused on food access through our pantry and emergency rent assistance to keep a roof over people’s heads. Our housing program stresses landlord and tenant connections, financial counseling, and direct access to stabilize housing, in our efforts to reduce the number of homeless families in our area.
The success of ECHO’s 20th annual Christmas in July and Need Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation summer fund drive is vital. The Ripple Effect is similar to our slogan Life is an ECHO—what you send out, you get back! All of those little things you do in every moment of your life can ripple out to create endless changes in the lives of others. We are grassroots, not part of a national organization. Local support is our lifeblood. ECHO needs to stay afloat to help the vulnerable in our community. Having stable housing, food and other basics gives people hope that they can tackle obstacles in their path toward achieving self-sufficiency. Your actions make a difference at ECHO, in this community, and in your lives and hearts. Thank You! Karen Lisser