The holiday season is a boon for most charitable organizations: As people get in a giving spirit, charities tend to see their donations increase.
But there's no guarantee, especially in these economic times.
"We are hopeful we will do as well as we did last year," said Joe Hubbard, director of Catholic Urban Programs in East St. Louis, "but, it's always hard to tell. Our food pantry shelves are looking kind of bare."
The holiday season is also typically the season when demand for food from those who are struggling increases -- a demand expected to be higher than usual this holiday season because of higher food prices caused by the summer drought.
In Illinois, poverty and hunger continue to plague communities. With an estimated 1.9 million people of the 13 million people in the state trying to get by and living below the federal poverty rate, charitable organizations depend on donations to help those in need. That number is up from around 1.7 million living below the poverty line in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
A family of three with a household income of $17,916 or less is considered to be living in poverty.
According to the latest Feeding America statistics, 22.2 percent of the state's children do not know where their next meal is coming from.
Catholic Urban Programs depends on donations so the agencies operated by the organization can help the hungry, homeless and needy. The organization serves anyone who needs help and is not limited to helping those just in the metro-east.
The organization has several programs that help people get food, assist in paying utility bills and housing costs, provide temporary housing for women and children, help them find jobs, help in emergency situations such as a house fire, eviction, illness or death, provide uniforms for a job, bus tickets and gas cards, and even helps those in school purchase books and pay tuition.
Hubbard, who is retiring after 40 years at the helm of Catholic Urban Programs, said he hasn't seen the need worsen significantly since last year, but the need is still there.
"It's about the same as last year," he said. "It's a little worse in some area like people not being able to pay their utilities. We had such a hot summer that a lot of people are still trying to catch up."
It's not just the slowly recovering economy affecting the people who seek help from Catholic Urban Programs. It's also a reduction in government money to social programs and a wave of people who have lost their welfare eligibility.
"We have a lot of people who have finished their five years on welfare and they have no income and can't find a job," Hubbard said.
"A lot of people are working, but they are working really low-paying jobs so the incomes just aren't there.
"There have been a lot of state cuts for the elderly and the help they used to get to pay for their medicines," he continued. "Those budget cuts went into effect July 1 and we are really seeing how it's affecting people."
Although the economy has not fully recovered, people are still giving, but not as much as the organization has seen in the past.
"I would just like to see people giving and sharing and loving and trying to take care of people in these really hard times," he said. "You really see that people who don't have a lot really do share a lot. I've seen people who have very little go out and buy an extra can of food or a bag of potatoes to give to someone who has even less. People are giving what they can."
The organization needs donations of canned foods and dry goods, blankets, toys, paper goods, and money. It uses monetary donations to help buy food for the pantry, help someone pay a utility bill, rent, a prescription or a bus pass.
For more information about Catholic Urban Programs or how to help, visit catholicurbanprograms.org.
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at email@example.com or 618-239-2667.