| The Ledger
Local charities and nonprofits are seeing the effects of people having less money in their pockets this year ahead of Giving Tuesday.
Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 as “a day that encourages people to do good.” Now a global movement, many use the opportunity to donate to organizations and issues they’re passionate about.
And this year, your organization of choice may need more help than ever. Nonprofits are seeing at least a slight dip in donations. The drop off may have been caused by COVID-19 and the loss of employment that stemmed from lockdowns, a threat again looming as cases rise in Florida.
While donations and volunteer numbers are down, need is slightly elevated. That holds especially true for organizations tailoring their relief towards people most affected by the coronavirus. As charities and nonprofits look ahead to 2021, a year that may still be marred by reduced donations, they’re hoping to boost donations on Dec. 1 during Giving Tuesday and spread some holiday cheer for families in need.
The decline in relief
While they still intend to meet the needs of the people they serve, charitable and nonprofit organizations in Polk County are seeing a slight dip in their donations compared to past years. For some, that’s reflected by the number of donors. For others, the number of donors has remained relatively steady, they’re just giving less.
Heide Waldron, director of development for the Bonnet Springs Park under construction in Lakeland, said donors may have shifted their priorities since the onset of COVID-19.
“A lot of donors were allocating their funds to human services — rightfully so — and I think our community still needs that,” Waldron said. “I think a lot of donors have shifted focus and are making sure that our community in terms of schools and resources are taken care of.”
And human need is certainly up when it comes to the necessities. Some food drives in the area have seen the demand for free groceries triple since the coronavirus grew aggressive in March. Lines at food banks have grown so long, they’ve caused traffic issues.
But need is up in other areas as well. The Polk State College Foundation, for example, set up the Nipping Emergency Situations and Technology Shortfalls (NESTS) fund in April. The fund assists Polk State College students whose need grew as a result of the coronavirus either because of job loss or because they didn’t have the technology necessary to transition to remote learning. The foundation aims to help students afford their college education, often through scholarships.
“We have a number of students, who because of our student population, their family may have lost their jobs being in the service industry or other industries that were adversely affected by COVID,” Interim Executive Director Cindy Baker said. “And these students already are struggling to be able to finance coming to Polk State College. And so they’ve come to us for different needs other than just their normal tuition and fees.”
Baker said she expects that need to grow, not shrink, as they transition to the spring semester. Meanwhile, the foundation has seen decreased donations, a phenomenon Baker credits at least in part to the lack of face-to-face fundraising throughout the year.
Some organizations are seeing increased need not directly brought on by COVID-19. SPCA Florida, for example, said that while adoptions have remained steady and even saw a slight increase during the initial quarantine period, the flow of animals into the no-kill shelter has also remained steady rather than starting to drop off, as usual.
Media and Partnership Relations Manager Randa Richter said donors are giving less on average than in the past. But the organization has no choice but to keep going.
“The animals have no idea COVID’s going on and so we still need to be here and help them and protect them,” Richter said. “We’ll have to find ways to support them because we can’t say no to them. It’s not their fault they’re here.”
And it’s not just financial donations that are down. COVID-19 means volunteers are in short supply too, choosing to stay home rather than risk infection. Organizations have had to find crafty workarounds; the SPCA now does training sessions via Zoom.
A possible solution: Giving Tuesday
Charitable organizations are hoping events like Giving Tuesday will give them the boost they need to continue to care for their chosen communities.
Some have specific campaigns to promote for the day, during which 100% of the donations will go towards that specific cause.
The Polk State College Foundation will raise money for NESTS on Giving Tuesday, which will help students acquire necessities like laptops as they continue to navigate the online-only semester. While the foundation doesn’t have an exact number in mind, they’d like to raise somewhere in the $100,000 range.
Last year, Bonnet Springs Park also swung for $100,000. This year, they’ve lowered the goal to $10,000 and all Giving Tuesday donations will go towards acquiring outdoor exercise equipment for the park. Waldron said the stationary equipment will be completely accessible, even wheelchair friendly, and good for a range of ages.
But Waldron emphasized that any amount counts towards helping build the park she hopes will be around for hundreds of years.
“We’re grateful for any donation,” Waldron said. “And we understand the impacts of COVID has reached wide and far and the capacity of some has been diminished.”
While not specifically related to Giving Tuesday, the SPCA is hoping to raise money in December through a key combo: Lakeland firefighters and cute pets. You can buy a pack of five holiday cards for $10 which will go towards basic care for shelter animals.
Bringing holiday cheer
With more people funneling their cash towards necessities, the holiday spirit may be difficult to fund this year. Organizations focused on ensuring every child has a Christmas toy are anticipating a dip in donations and a possible uptick in need.
David Waller, the Polk County coordinator for Toys for Tots, said the number of families requesting toys for their children are mostly consistent with last year. But he expects demand may rise and the organization will reopen the application window for a short period of time in early December as a result.
But even if need doesn’t rise much, donations are likely to be down. Toys for Tots usually provides 425 Polk businesses with boxes where employees and customers can drop off donations. But Waller expects about 60-75 of those locations to be unable to host the boxes because they’re working out of the office.
Waller said he feels they’ll still be able to provide a toy for every child signed up with the program either by their family or through a nonprofit. Children may just get less books and stocking stuffers than the organization was able to give out in the past.
The Christmas Store hosted by Parker Street Ministries may face a similar dilemma, though they cater to a narrower audience. Only people within the community defined by strict geographical boundaries can apply to shop at the store, where families can snag unwrapped, brand new toys discounted about 75%.
Hannah Scruggs, volunteer and neighborhood event coordinator with Parker Street, said it’s too early to tell if demand is up from previous years. But she does expect to see donations take a hit.
“It definitely seems like there’s a dip just because a lot of our organizations and churches that have in the past given, some might not be able to this year,” Scruggs said.
She thinks that’s partly because the organizations can’t currently meet in person. The lack of face-to-face interaction during coronavirus has affected donation rates for several charitable organizations.
Parker Street Ministries hopes to collect 2,800 toys for this year’s store.
Coming up next
If you had fun ringing in Halloween with Silver Moon Drive-In’s Howl @ The Moon special events, get your Santa hat out for a December twist.
The drive-in movie theater will kick off the most wonderful time of the year Dec. 4 with a holiday classics marathon. Four movies will play on each screen, starting at 6:30 p.m. The lineup is as follows: A Christmas Story, Polar Express, Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on one side and The Grinch (animated, not Jim Carrey), Rise of the Guardians, Almost Christmas and Krampus on the other.
Croods 2 will play during the first week of December but from there on out, it’s all holiday titles, all of the time. Movies to look forward to include A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Gremlins and It’s A Wonderful Life.
While scare zones are not as palatable for holiday celebrations, CosFX will be returning as your favorite classic characters. The Addams family, Santa and Mrs. Claus, Krampus, the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who will all make appearances for photo opportunities.
But beware as you head back to your car: The Grinch will be strolling around, greeting guests and hatching plans to steal their Christmas spirit.
James-Michael Roddy, a Halloween Horror Nights legend who produced a zombie film for the theater in October, will produce a Christmas-themed short film to play in between movies at the theater. James Andrews and Chris Hodge, organizers of the special events, said the film is going to be Christmas Vacation themed.
The drive-in is open on all major holidays and is located on New Tampa Hwy.
But if movies aren’t your jam, you can head over to a new business tagging itself as Lakeland’s indoor Top Golf: The Back Nine.
The new spot, owned by married elementary school teachers Ethan and Jenna Smith, opened Friday, a little less than a month after its projected Oct. 23 opening date. The Back Nine has three full-swing golf simulators (which also hosts sports such as baseball, football and zombie dodgeball), a restaurant and a bar serving beer and wine.
Jenna Smith said masks are “recommended” for guests but currently required for servers.
The Back Nine is on the north side of Lakeland on U.S. 98, across from Duff Road.
Maya Lora can be reached with tips or questions at email@example.com or 863-802-7558.