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Charities collecting last-minute donations

Jason Cato
| Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005

'Tis the season for last-minute donations, and local charities are happily accepting gifts through today's deadline for giving in 2005.

Bags of toys, clothes and boxed appliances were lined up late Friday afternoon around the corner behind the Goodwill in Ross Township, where the list of people receiving tax forms to claim credit for donations had already surpassed 200 for the day.

"This is what you would say is our bread-and-butter time of year," said head clerk Linda Brenneman.

Donations to Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh double from Thanksgiving to the end of the year, said spokeswoman Sheila Holt. Of the 2,000 items that make their way to the floor of the charity's retail stores each week, at least an eighth come during the holiday season.

"People are in the giving mood," Holt said.

Americans donate an average $250 billion each year, and this year's donations could exceed that amount by 10 percent, said Sandra Miniutti, a spokeswoman with the New Jersey-based Charity Navigator, which rates the country's 5,000 largest charities. Individuals account for 75 percent of what's given, and half of that comes during this time of the year, she said.

The three biggest factors for giving are being inspired to be generous by the religious holidays, having a better handle on where personal finances stand at year's end and anticipating tax breaks, Miniutti said.

"So, giving this time of year is very important," Miniutti said.

Still, the national and international outpouring this year because of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states and the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia could cause local charities to see fewer donations -- although more is being given, she said.

Goodwill has seen a significant drop in donations of larger items, such as cars, which were down 27 percent through November, Holt said.

"We were a little concerned that it had dropped off some, because it was the end of the year," she said. "But it's good to know Pittsburghers remember Goodwill and other charities like the Salvation Army and St. Vincent's."

At the Goodwill on East Carson Street in the South Side, Marylou Stefanko and her husband, Bob, of Brighton Heights, dropped off a bed Friday that once belonged to her mother. They said they donate items throughout the year, but always around the holidays.

"This is the time of the year we bring the majority of items, because we have the time," Marylou Stefanko said. "And people are in need at this time, so we're happy to help."

Tax breaks are nice, but helping people in need is more important, Bob Stefanko said.

"That's the whole point of it," he said.

The Salvation Army of Western Pennsylvania also sees an increase in housewares and clothing donations during this time of the year. It also receives as much as half of its larger cash donations, said Lisa Young, the local director of planned giving. The goal is to raise $1 million a year. So far, about $350,000 has been donated, Young said, and this is the end of its first fiscal quarter -- which began in October.

"This kind of predicts how difficult it's going to be to reach our goal," Young said. "This has been a healthy quarter, but it's not the best quarter I've ever had. If it was $500,000, it'd be really healthy."

And for those looking for a tax break in 2005, it's not too late.

"As long as it's postmarked by the end of the year, they'll be all right," Young said.

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