Charities worried as donations drying up less than week before Christmas

Winnipeg Harvest executive director Kate Brenner suspected something was wrong when her team was able to keep up with processing donations during what should be the busiest month of the year.

Winnipeg Harvest December donations less than a third compared to previous years, executive director says

Winnipeg Harvest usually raises close to $1 million in December, but a week before Christmas it has raised less than a third of that. (CBC)

Winnipeg Harvest executive director Kate Brenner suspected something was wrong when her team was able to easily keep up with processing donations during what should be the busiest month of the year.

"Usually we're scrambling to make sure people are getting their tax receipts on time," she said.

The local food bank usually raises close to $1 million in December, but a week before Christmas it has raised less than a third of that.

"We've never been in this position before … Not in the last decade anyway," Brenner said.

Revenues have been increasing for the past eight years and this would be the first year they have failed to match donations from the previous year, she said.

The December rush normally brings in about a third of the charity's annual donations. Without a last-minute uptick, Harvest's programming could suffer.

"We would just have to look at — hopefully without affecting the people that need us the most — scaling back," she said.

Harvest isn't the only Winnipeg charity noticing a lag in donations. Salvation Army has only raised half of what it usually brings in during the month of December.

"We know that folks are very generous and do contribute coming up to the end, but we're starting to worry that we just need some help to reach that goal this year," said spokesperson Rob Kerr.

Christmas Cheer Board executive director Kai Madsen said donations are down a bit, but not significantly.

"Lots of things will happen between now and the end of the year. We're holding our own. Deliveries are going wonderfully. We expect to hand out 18,000 hampers this year," he said.

Both Kerr and Brenner say they usually see large chunk of donations come in towards the end of the their fundraising drives, but time is running out.

Kerr says the Salvation Army kettle volunteers are only out until Saturday.

Fundraising difficulties aren't limited to this time of year, Harvest's Brenner said. In conversations with other organizations back in September, there was concern that donations were softening. She said food banks across the country are seeing a drop in both food and monetary donations.
Salvation Army has only raised half of what it usually brings in during the month of December. (CBC)

Kerr says he doesn't know why donations have dropped off. Brenner suggests it could be that there are simply more charities for people to donate to, or people might be waiting.

Salvation Army recently released an app for Android and iPhone that allows people to donate via credit card in whichever location they want.

Winnipeg Harvest also accepts donations through its website. Brenner says Harvest is doing everything it can to drum up donations.

"But if it's not there, it's not there. We are doing everything we can to tell people that the need is here, but they have choices to make," she said.

The Christmas Cheer Board will deliver hampers until noon on Dec. 24. It will then reopen on Dec. 27, 28 and 29 for people who weren't home when hamper deliveries were attempted. 

With files from Susan Magas, Kim Kaschor and Cameron MacLean