You might have noticed during the holiday season the campaigns for support and volunteers by nonprofits and other service initiatives tend to ramp up. Certainly there are many reasons nonprofits accelerate their fundraising and volunteer recruiting during the holiday season, but it’s not just because people are more inclined to be generous during November and December. One primary reason is because the need truly is greater.
But why? Why would the need change from one month to another if factors like jobs and open shelters stay relatively the same? Of course there could be any number of factors that play into a specific family or individual’s level of need, but there are three primary reasons need is amplified during the holidays across the board:
- School is out. Generally, any time school is out — including summer — need increases. About 22 million children receive free or reduced lunch at their schools every day, and many of them rely on those meals as their primary nourishment. When school is out, they no longer have that resource. Many schools do provide food pantry items and deliveries to supplement this need, but it is not required. For this reason, many children are not getting the food they need, and their families are struggling to provide it in the absence of school meals. My friend Tracy Lawrence and I talked about this in a recent episode of the Real Hope podcast as we discussed the annual Mission: Possible Turkey Fry he organizes for Nashville Rescue Mission.
“As you get involved in charity work…the deeper you get the more need you find. It actually can break your heart because you realize you can’t even scratch the surface of what needs to be done. We found out that …when school’s out, a lot of kids don’t eat,” the country artist says. Tracy’s wife Becca decided to head up a box meal delivery as part of the turkey fry. “She’ll spend the day making sides, and we usually pull the first 100 turkeys off…and half those turkeys and put together a box meal for a family of four. Then we’ll go out and deliver those meals in Wilson County.”
- Colder weather. This reason may be a bit more obvious, but the colder weather is a struggle for many people in need, particularly for our homeless friends. People who might typically be able to make do outside are now in danger of exposure to harsh conditions, so shelters begin to fill up more quickly. Even for people who are not homeless but live with low incomes, the utility bills of heating a home can add up and become a financial burden.
In 2018, the Energy Information Administration reported that 31 percent of American households struggled to pay their energy bills, and about 1-in-5 households reported having forgone food, medicine or other necessities to pay their energy bills. Of the 25 million households that have had to make that impossible choice, 7 million of them said they have to make that decision nearly every month.
- Holiday expenses and expectations. Every parent, regardless of income, wants to give their children a magical holiday season. And nearly every child has a special toy or gift they hope to receive. Add to that expectation the desire to provide a holiday meal, a Christmas tree, and a memory-making experience or two and the financial stress becomes nearly inevitable for many families.
In 2019, the average U.S. household spent about $511 on gifts and about $1500 total during the Christmas season, according to Deloitte. That’s a lot of money for any household, but especially for households at or under the poverty line. For context, the poverty line for a family of four is about $26,000, which breaks down to about $2100 per month — and that’s before taxes.) Many people end up overextending themselves simply because they want to show love to their families. This time of year, it’s so important to have empathy and compassion for people who happen to be in a lower income bracket but, just like us, deserve to have a memorable, festive holiday season.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Holiday Need
The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly everything in our world in some way, and nonprofits are certainly no exception. As we approach the holiday season, nonprofits that serve people in need are stretched even thinner this year. Charities Aid Foundation of America recently conducted a survey of nonprofits and reported that 94 percent of the respondents said their organization was “currently negatively impacted by the coronavirus global pandemic.” The survey also reported that 70 percent had experienced a “significant reduction in the contributions they receive” and had to suspend programs involving travel or events, and that half the respondents projected a decline of more than 20 percent in contributions in the next 12 months.
There are many reasons for these losses and negative impacts, one of which is job losses amongst donors. Pew Research reports that 25 percent of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household has lost their job as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and 15 percent say it happened to them personally. Even if they didn’t lose their job entirely, many Americans have been affected by reduced hours or pay cuts. The report also states about a third (32 percent) of Americans say this has happened to them or someone in their household, with about 21 percent saying it has happened to them personally. These losses of income can certainly affect the amount people are able to give to charitable causes.
Another negative impact is the effect on events. Many nonprofits rely on events for fundraising, but not being able to gather in large groups has significantly affected the bottom lines of many organizations. It also makes it difficult to serve large populations in a “boots on the ground” capacity and recruit large groups of volunteers if we are not able to safely gather.
This year more than ever it’s important to think about our fellow man and what we can do for others during this holiday season. It will certainly be one of great hardship for many people, but if we work together, creatively solve problems and stay committed, we can bring hope and joy to just as many people this year as we have in the past.