Cover Story: Charlotte giving in a recession

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Giving in Charlotte and giving in a recession.  What's happening here at the start of the holidays that is surprising many people.

It's no secret that charities all over are suffering.  Donations are down, need is up.

So it was a welcome thing to see so many people giving at this year's Street Turkeys event in Center City Charlotte.

WFNZ Sports Radio was collecting turkeys, canned goods, and money for two big local charities- Second Harvest Food Bank and Loaves and Fishes.

And as we saw even in the most challenging economic times, people find a way to give.

What is it about the holidays that has people opening up their wallets?  Call it part of our upbringing, part of our American culture, perhaps part guilt, but it seems to be happening in greater numbers than we've seen in past Thanksgiving.

They weren't sure what to expect when they started collecting turkeys in Center City on Wednesday.

Last year when the stock market crashed organizers of WFNZ annual street turkey event saw donations plummet.

Would they rebound this year or be a rerun?.. you decide.

"Times we're in are tough," says Ashley Frazier of Charlotte.  "If we can help out some of those less fortunate then that's what we're all about."

"So many people are coming down even those who've lost their jobs.. they themselves need help.. they're still coming out to give," says Chele Fassig of WFNZ Radio.

"We actually had one child come in with a bag of coins that they had emptied their piggy bank and brought in the change to us," said Valerie Crocket, volunteer from Loaves & Fishes.

But it's not just here, Toys for Tots.  Salvation Army kettles.  Thursday's annual "Harvest Feast".. where they will feed 10-thousand needy at the Charlotte Convention Center.

When it comes to giving at the holidays Charlotte opens her heart and her wallet.

A city known for its philanthropy giving per capita is one of the highest in the country.  But this year has done a number on our charities.

It's estimated that giving to churches.. United Way agencies.. and to the arts and culture is down 10-percent this year.. some agencies even faring worse.

"This happens everytime we go into recession.  And this one is more acute than some we've had in the past."  Dr. David Swindell studies charities and non-profits and directs the Ph.D. in Public Policy Program at UNC Charlotte.

Because of the recession donations are down at a time the need is its greatest.. there are lines on many days outside the Crisis Assistance Ministry in the last year.

And because this recession is deeper and the city's population is larger.. the overall need is greater.

Says Sue Bruce of Loaves & Fishes, "Last year we fed 84-thousand people at Loves and Fishes and we passed that mark at the end of October. We're expecting to feed 100-thousand people by the end of this year."

For charities the challenge is to channel this goodwill seen in abundance at the holidays and keep it going throughout the year.

"That's a bit of a challenge for them," says Swindell.  "It's harder to get on peoples' radar to give during those darker months when the holidays have already passed."

While it's welcomed now.. when do non-profits like food pantries and homeless shelters really need the help?  They say the middle of winter, February when the needs are still there and peoples' focus is on to something else.

Giving in Charlotte and giving in a recession.  What's happening here at the start of the holidays that is surprising many people.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson reports in our Cover Story.

Are we seeing an increase in donations?

Too early for any hard numbers yet.. but anecdotally it seems we are.. perhaps it's to make up for the giving that didn't take place earlier this year.