Area nonprofits work through summer slumps

While many people associate summer with sunshine, vacations and beaches, Phyllis Mueller defines the season with a simple equation.

Donations down plus needs up equals summer.

Mueller, director of the Diaper Bank at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Crystal Lake, said summer is no vacation for many nonprofits that struggle to maintain the same stream of donations they experience during the holiday season and school year.

At peak donation times, the Diaper Bank is able to provide 20,000 to 25,000 diapers a month to people in need, but Mueller said that amount is cut by more than half in the summer months.

The summer slump can be so devastating that last year’s total of 250,000 donated diapers still met only half the demand.

“Diapers are something people don’t think about much, and they don’t realize there is no other help or government program. It’s just us,” Mueller said. “You try very hard to inform people, but there are vacations, kids at home, time with the family, and I can empathize with that, but it makes it harder.”

To combat the problem, the agency added some additional drives this month to boost donations and make up for lost summer time.

The largest drive will be at D’Andrea Banquets in Crystal Lake on Sept. 21. The “Bountiful Hors d’oeuvres” event will feature a silent auction and open bar. Tickets are $75.

Donations to other agencies also have slumped in the summer, but those groups did not experience the same hit.

Jacqueline Piggott, executive director of the Blessing Barn in Crystal Lake, said one look at her inventory sheet was all it took to see that donations decreased from June through August. While she generally fills three sheets’ worth of items donated to the barn every month, Piggott was down to about one sheet per month in the summer.

Piggott said she survived comfortably because of enough items in storage, and she expects a bulk of new inventory when unsold items from final garage sales come in.

“When we started, there were about the same 30 women that would come in all the time,” she said. “Now we serve more than 100 families, and some people come from as far as Marengo. What I need more than anything else is another space.”

As Piggott searches for someone willing to donate more space, leaders at the Senior Care Volunteer Network are starting to figure out how to rebound from their first year of experiencing an overall decrease in donations.

Sarah Ponitz, executive director for the agency, said she has seen positive results and more interest after changing the name from Faith in Action to Senior Care Volunteer Network, before it gives potential donors a much clearer picture of the agency’s mission.

Setting up the major annual fundraiser in April also helps prepare for the slower summer months. But with an organization touting 375 volunteers contributing more than 24,000 hours of service, there is always a need.

“We really need volunteers, especially drivers,” Ponitz said. “There are never enough volunteers.”

As most nonprofit organizations look to rebound from slow summers, some have found sustained success.

Andrea Franzen, director of FISH of McHenry Food Pantry, said the organization had a strong summer and was able to serve the roughly 600 families – about 2,200 individuals – it averages each month.

Franzen said she expected even more community support in September because as children go back to school, families no longer have to provide the lunches and sometimes breakfasts they did during the summer.

“We’re very fortunate to have strong community support continuously throughout the year,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in many places.”

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