Organizations such as The Salvation Army are trying to raise enough money to keep up with increasing needs due to job losses and a sluggish economy.
Ed Dutton is the service extension director for 30 counties in Illinois and 22 in Iowa. Included among those counties are Fulton, Henderson, Henry, Livingston, Mercer, Woodford, Marshall and Stark. The areas he supervises are ones without a Salvation Army church.
"The biggest challenge for me is finding volunteers," Dutton said, speaking by cell phone as he volunteered as a bell ringer outside the Kroger store in Chillicothe. "I can only do as much as I can with enough volunteers."
In the Illinois portion of Dutton's area, the only full-time Salvation Army employees are based in Kewanee, Lincoln, Streator and Pontiac.
"There are never enough volunteers because there is always more work to do," said Pastor Ann Champion of the First United Methodist Church in Galva. Champion coordinates the Red Kettle Campaign in the Henry County community.
An in-depth look at The Salvation Army effort across 11 counties in west-central Illinois found it is becoming more difficult than ever to provide for those who need food, clothing and shelter.
Dutton said the challenges are many, and the need is great.
"Unemployment ran out for a lot of people just this year, so that created a problem," he said. "Employers are not hiring people for full-time work because of the healthcare."
Dutton mentioned a number of contract employees recently let go by Caterpillar. While some of those people may have found new jobs, most are now making far less money.
"You're working for $8 or $9 an hour, instead of, say, $12," he said.
The obstacles in the smaller area communities differ in a number of ways from those in larger cities.
"The cost of gasoline just to get back and forth to work, that's a problem," Dutton said. "They have to drive to work to a bigger city from a rural area."
Resources are another problem. Many of the counties are very small.
"There are actually not enough resources from any organization to meet the need," he said. "You network with other agencies. You try to get the most out of your dollars."
It's a method Champion uses in Galva. She reaches out to other groups to find volunteers.
"For example, with the Salvation Army and Operation Christmas Child ministries, I have recruited beyond the traditional church connections to groups including the local Legion post, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rotary, Interact and individuals at local businesses to get more volunteers and more sites at which persons can donate," Champion said. "I have learned the days are gone when we could just put out a plea for workers and they would come. It takes personal contacts."
Challenges different for small towns
In 2011, almost $3,000 was raised in Galva by the Red Kettle Campaign.
Dutton said there are other ways smaller communities differ from the area's larger cities.
"In the bigger cities, we have shelters, you have soup kitchens. There's a lot of resources in the larger areas," he said.
In Galesburg, the goal for the Red Kettle Campaign is $69,000 this year. Contrast that with Toulon, the county seat of Stark County with a population under 2,000.
"A pastor in Toulon, he does a pretty good job," Dutton said. "He raises $3,000 or $4,000. It's all volunteers (in the smaller counties), mostly pastors."
That's not to say it's easy to meet the need in larger west-central Illinois cities. Many of the factors faced by volunteers in smaller west-central Illinois communities are the same in the area's cities.
"As far as employment and need, that's one of the places (Galesburg) we see the need really increasing," said Major Evie Diaz of the divisional headquarters in Peoria. "Galesburg is a tough community to raise bigger amounts of money. We really have to be careful of our spending there."
Businesses are tightening up
Gifts-in-kind donations, such as food from local supermarkets, or clothing from discount stores, such as Walmart, have helped in the past in larger cities.
"These gift-in-kind donations are extremely important and necessary since much of the food and clothing that we need for food pantries, soup kitchens, and family centers is obtained through these gifts," said Divisional Development Director James R. Sullivan.
Diaz said the fewer gift-in-kind donations, the more those costs are likely to climb.
"The cost of social services, as far as the actual cash we'll spend, will go up," she said. "In Galesburg, it would seem in some years we haven't spent a lot of money, because we had a lot of food donations from local supermarkets and Walmart. Those two communities (Galesburg and Macomb), they've really counted on donations from grocery stores and large stores, such as the Walmarts. They'll have to go out in the community and do more canned food drives.
"I think businesses are tightening up," Diaz said, "and people are cautious."
"We could always use more (donations) to better meet the need," said Major William Welch of the Galesburg Corps office. "We do the best we can."
Dutton said the fact of the matter is that's all that can be done in an area hit hard by the recession and still trying to bounce back.
"We do what we have resources for," he said. "The need is not being met."
Diaz said new strategies may be needed.
"I think we have to rethink how we approach the community," Diaz said. "It'll go back to us communicating our need again."
View an online data base comparing Salvation Army donations and cost of services here.