Service clubs feel pinch of tight economy

Les Muilenburg, president of the Redlands Lions Club, is proud of his group’s purchase of a handicap-accessible van, because a woman injured in a car crash can now get around.

That gesture is just one of the good deeds Muilenburg has done with his service group during his 17-year tenure. The 41-member group also provides eye glasses, restorative surgery and payments of medical bills for sight-impaired children and adults using the roughly $24,000 raised each year.

But this year, Muilenburg fears, donors may keep a tighter grip on their pocketbooks, leaving more community needs than his group can handle.

“If the community has money, then the service clubs have money,” he said. “If the economy is bad, (people) aren’t going to be so apt to give. They might give $1 instead of $5. We hope to raise the same amount (as last year), but it’s doubtful.”

A souring economy coupled with a falling stock market is making members of some service clubs wonder whether Mesa County donors will be as generous as in years past.

Those tests are yet to come for most clubs and nonprofits, whose members pour efforts into annual

For Penny Frankhouser, executive director of the Counseling and Education Center, that test will come this week, during the nonprofit’s Oct. 24 (He)Art for the Community Art Sale at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.

Frankhouser said she asked local artists to sell their less expensive pieces, fearing attendees may be less willing to part with larger sums.

But the nonprofit group that provides counseling services to low-income or uninsured people also finds itself in a conundrum. A sputtering economy may be the basis for a 20 percent increase in clients, but those clients are paying less.

Services are offered on a sliding fee scale, but many clients say they, too, are struggling to pay for basic needs and therefore cannot pay for counseling.

“It doesn’t help us to see a client for $15 and pay a staff member $17,” Frankhouser said. “I can only assume that it’s going to be a problem.”

The bulk of the nonprofit’s funding, about $30,000 to $32,000 a year, comes from United Way, and the rest comes from grants, foundations and fundraisers.

Nonprofits can cut costs by networking with other groups and using available resources.

For example, Frankhouser found a deal through the Human Service Council of Mesa County that allowed her to buy computer software for 15 computers for less than $100.

Treasurer Pearl Monson of the Fruita Lioness Club said members are getting smarter about raising money. Members requested donations of money or food from local businesses to put on their annual spaghetti dinner at the Fruita Fall Festival. Without overhead costs, the group charged $4 a plate for full meals, prompting hungry folks to choose the fundraiser over higher-priced festival vendors.

Lioness group members turned around and gave checks of $870 each to Homeward Bound and Camp Good Grief, a summer program for kids sponsored by Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado.

“I know one club raised their price (of a meal) to $8, and they didn’t have a good crowd,” Monson said. “We’ve talked about raising prices, but people need to have something reasonable.”


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