Darlene Scott (left) and Natasha Sanders work at changing the Neighbor to Neighbor thrift store from a Christmas toy store into a clothing store that will reopen Jan. 3. Scott and Sanders both said donations had been good and there were a lot of people taking advantage of the items in the store. Even though it is called a thrift store, the items are free once a client has qualified. Neighbor to Neighbor also has a “Burn Store,” which provides furniture to clients whose homes have burned. (Special to The Commercial/Mike Adam)
Residents of Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas have long been hailed for their generosity, but even the most selfless givers can be tested by an uncertain economy.
Contributions to The Commercial’s annual Christmas Card fund, which is distributed among Jefferson County schools, totaled $5,000, which was down from recent years. The decrease was attributed to economic uncertainty, stirred in part by the federal “fiscal cliff” battles in Washington that have been highlighted within the newspaper.
“People just don’t have as much as they’ve had in the past,” said Charlotte England, executive director of Pine Bluff’s Neighbor to Neighbor, a centralized church charity. “People are worried about their own situations as well as the national economy.”
Yet, even in such troubled periods, many give as they always have. And some manage to give even more.
“I can’t imagine another place like Pine Bluff when it comes to people giving like they do,” England said. “They’re such generous people. Pine Bluff gets a bad rap on so many things, but when it comes to giving, they’re there. I’m grateful for them.”
England said that even though Neighbor to Neighbor’s overall contributions have sagged this year, the agency has “managed to do what we needed to do with the money we’ve had.” She said the agency’s partnering churches have been especially supportive.
England said the charity had previously had to purchase some food items for distribution to the needy for Thanksgiving and Christmas, “but not this year.”
United Way of Southeast Arkansas Allocations and Campaign Coordinator Karen Small said her agency has met about 75 percent of its current campaign goal of $1.28 million, advancing at much the same pace it was a year ago.
Small said “several big companies” have yet to report their collections, so the total may be even bigger.
Of the state’s United Way groups, Pine Bluff’s is the only one to have met its campaign goals the past two years, Small said.
“You can’t beat the generosity of the people of Jefferson County and Southeast Arkansas,” she said. “It’s a giving community, and we expect that to continue.”
The Salvation Army in Pine Bluff has experienced both increases and decreases in charitable collections.
Capt. David Robinson reported that Christmas kettle donations in Arkansas, Grant and Jefferson counties were up $600 over 2011’s total. The 2012 campaign, which stretched from Nov. 16 through Dec. 24, netted $82,000. Unfortunately, not all families participating in this year’s Angel Tree project were “adopted” by donors, whereas last year, all the Angel Tree participants found a sponsor.
Meanwhile, collections through the annual mail appeal are down about $4,000 from last year’s mark of around $60,000. And contributions of canned food items have also decreased.
“But people can donate at any time,” Robinson said.
Donations remain steady for the American Red Cross, however, according to Communications Officer Brigette Williams.
Williams believes Arkansans’ support of one another may be due in large part to their appreciation for each other.
“Arkansas has been a poor state and Arkansans have shared in a number of disasters, including the one we’re in right now with the ice and snow storm and so many people being without electrical service,” she said.
“People here can appreciate tough times because they know that disasters don’t discriminate and that helping isn’t about what you have or don’t have but rather what you can do to help one another,” Williams said. “I hate to say it, but disaster is the great equalizer that brings everyone into perspective and opens them to helping others. Arkansans have learned by experience that the best way to help yourself overcome a disaster is to help others who may be less fortunate than you are.”