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Charities find challenges go along with doing good works

Shirley McMarlin
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Kim Stepinsky | For the Tribune-Review
The annual Westmoreland Walks: Taking Steps Against Breast Cancer event is the major fundraiser for Westmoreland Walks Inc., an organization founded by a group of local women whose lives had been affected by breast cancer. Shown is the 2017 event at Twin Lakes Park.
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Brian Kunst
Lt. Alexander Senak (left) works with a young participant in the children’s music program at the Salvation Army Allegheny Valley Worship and Service Center in Brackenridge.
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Brian Kunst
A men’s basketball league is among programs offered at the Salvation Army Allegheny Valley Worship and Service Center in Brackenridge.
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Feeding the Spirit
Feeding the Spirit organizers say their weekly free meal provides "warmth, nourishment, friendship and fellowship for those who are struggling to survive in a world that often leaves them behind."
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Dan Speicher | Tribune Review
Rosemary Mills, assistant manager of Action for Animals in Derry Township, plays with German shorthaired pointer Dot, as Shanksville watches on Jan. 15.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Brian Adams unloads pallets from a Westmoreland County Food Bank truck, as volunteers work to set up a monthly food pantry at Mother of Sorrows Church in Murrysville.
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Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Kennametal employee Loretta Bell packs ears of corn, while volunteering at the Westmoreland County Food Bank in Delmont.
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Tribune-Review file
Volunteers with Feeding the Spirit annually package winter scarves, hats and gloves and hang them around Greensburg to be used by people in need.

There are dozens of charities and nonprofits at work in the area, some large and high-profile and others smaller and more limited in scope.

They serve the hungry, the homeless and those struggling with issues of mental, spiritual and physical health. Not all their clients are human, either. Some have paid staff, others rely solely on volunteer help.

Providing services comes with challenges. Raising funds, obviously, is a big one — but there are others.

Here, representatives of area organizations share logistical issues in carrying out what Christians call corporal works of mercy, which include feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and visiting the sick.

Action for Animals Humane Society

Location: 386 Route 217, Derry Township

Services: Westmoreland County’s oldest no-kill shelter for abused, abandoned and stray dogs and cats, with a capacity for 150 animals.

Challenges: “It costs a good $2,000 a day to run the shelter,” says board President Rita Whiteman. The shelter has 22 employees and contracts services with two veterinarians.

“Our biggest challenge is that there are so many new rescue groups that we have to compete with for fundraising,” Whiteman says. “Many of them are foster-based, so they don’t have shelters to fund. The demographic in Westmoreland County is that we’re not getting bigger, we’re getting smaller, so you can’t stagnate (in fundraising efforts). People want something different, so you have to keep thinking of something new.”

Half of the AFA budget comes from fundraising and half comes from pet adoption fees, T-shirt sales and shot and spay/neuter clinics. Fundraising is the job of the board of directors, who oversee annual efforts such as the Love Is in the Air gala, a golf outing, two cash bashes and a recently added gun bash. AFA also benefits from bequests and the shelter’s Angels subscription newsletter, Whiteman says.

Current annual budget: $800,000

Details: 724-539-2544 or afashelter.org

Feeding the Spirit

Location: 611 Southwest Ave., Greensburg; free Thursday dinner at Otterbein United Methodist Church, 111 College Ave., Greensburg

Services (in addition to the weekly meal): Assistance with emergency overnight housing funds, gas cards, medical copays, food and hygiene items, bus tickets; help in obtaining drivers’ licenses or photo identification; giveaway of winter clothing accessories.

Challenges: “I never wanted Feeding the Spirit to look at the money, but the reality is you have to be solvent to be sustainable,” says founder and President Deborah Thackrah. One challenge is “making donors aware that money is needed year-round. We think about the special needs of the cold months, but the reality is that people run out of food in the summer, too.”

Many volunteers at the Thursday dinner are Seton Hill University students, Thackrah says, so more community volunteers would be welcome during the summer.

Current annual budget: about $125,000

Details: 724-757-2533 or feedspirit.org

Salvation Army Allegheny Valley Worship and Service Center

Location: 917 Brackenridge Ave., Brackenridge

Services: Distribution of Thanksgiving meals and Christmas toys, Thursday community meal, emergency food pantry, children’s after-school and music programs, men’s basketball league, back-to-school backpacks, worship service and assistance with rent, utilities, furniture and clothing.

Challenges: About 40% of the center’s annual budget comes from the holiday season Red Kettle campaign, says Lt. Alexander Senak, who manages the center with his wife, Lt. Kelsey Senak. “That’s such a pivotal time for us,” he says.

Funds must be apportioned throughout the following year. To supplement holiday giving, the center holds rummage sales, sends out donation “asks” and partners with local service organizations. Although the Salvation Army is part of the religious umbrella that receives faith-based governmental funding, Senak says the Brackenridge center does not receive any government support.

“The community supports us a lot and my wife and I are very encouraged by that,” he says. “We’ve been able to maintain a pretty steady budget (in the three years) we’ve been here.”

Current annual budget: $550,000

Details: 724-224-6310 or salvationarmy.org

Westmoreland County Food Bank

Location: 100 Devonshire Drive, Delmont

Services: Delivers food and household necessities monthly to 43 county food pantries, assisting more than 16,000 people in more than 7,000 households; student backpack meals, senior food boxes, military share program, summer food service and more.

Challenges: The “lion’s share” of donations are received from September to December, says CEO Jennifer Miller. “We’re grateful for everything we receive; but people aren’t just hungry around the holidays, they’re hungry all year long. It’s a struggle in terms of budgeting — March picks up a little, and the (May) mail carriers and (April) Boy Scout food drives are a big help, but this time of year through summer is a down time.”

Donated funds make up 60% of the food bank budget, Miller says, and “95% of money brought in goes back out” in food assistance.

Another pressing concern, Miller says, is that many food bank warehouse volunteers are elderly and not able to do some of the physical work required. Miller says people who are recently retired and still fit for heavy lifting or young people looking for a volunteer niche are always welcome.

Current annual budget: about $3.6 million

Details: 724-468-8660 or westmorelandfoodbank.org

Westmoreland Walks Inc.

Location: No physical address; volunteers work from home

Services: Raises funds for Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition, supports area women undergoing treatment with funds and an annual spa day, awards scholarships to students whose lives have been affected by breast cancer.

Challenges: “One of our major hurdles is letting people know who we are,” says board President Kathy Brown. “We are not very good marketers. We don’t want to spend a lot of money advertising ourselves, we just want to give it away; so getting the word out is our biggest challenge.”

Westmoreland Walks raises funds through an annual Pink Ribbon Walk in October, a spring fashion show and through solicitation letters to businesses and organizations.

In 2013, Brown and organization co-founder Cheryl McMullen visited businesses along Route 30, asking owners if they would display pink bows or other decorations during October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which has led to the annual Get Your Pink On initiative — and an increase in donations, Brown says.

Current annual budget: “We don’t have a budget, we just hope we get a lot of money,” Brown says. “What we take in, we give out.”

Details: 724-441-4130 or westmorelandwalks.org

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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