Across the board local businesses are hurting from the recession, but perhaps local non-profit organizations are feeling the impact more acutely. With the government contributing very little to their budgets, many local organizations are primarily funded by individual donors or corporations. Kristina Lange, of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, said that although the volume of donations has remained the same, the amount donated has substantially declined. Bay Street Theatre, which relies on a combination of donations and grants, recently learned that grant money they were expecting from the New York State Council on the Arts had been put on hold, as Governor Paterson cuts down the state budget. Both ARF and Bay Street Theatre reduced their annual operating budgets by six and fifteen percent, respectively.
Although Fighting Chance, a free-of-charge counseling and resource center for East End cancer patients, has a ‘rainy day fund’ of $80,000, they have trimmed their budget, instead of tapping into these funds. The organization cut their expenses, primarily by reducing their advertising expenditure, and is operating on an “austerity budget for 2009,” said Duncan Darrow, founder of Fighting Chance.
Anticipating a shortfall in donations, many local non-profit organizations also trimmed their already lean budgets for this year. Kristina Lange reported that ARF implemented a hiring freeze, and subsequently reorganized their staff.
In addition, the non-profit cut down on community programs. Last year, ARF offered spay and neutering clinics for pet owners, as well as pet micro-chipping. These programs were cut from the budget.
Even with these setbacks ARF was still able to provide their key services, like a dog agility and obedience school, pet therapy, a pet bereavement support group and, of course, their kennel for animals up for adoption.
Despite the fact that ARF reduced their programs, Bay Street Theatre found ways to increase their programming without breaking the bank. On inauguration day the theater’s doors were open to the public for a free screening of the day’s festivities. The theater will televise the Oscar celebrations on Sunday, February 22, which will also be free to the public. During these screenings, Bay Street operates a concession stand, which helps defray the cost of keeping the theater open.
“For us to put on a full blown Equity show is outrageously expensive,” said general manager Tracey Mitchell. “We recognize that people don’t have a lot of cash. This is one way we can provide something free to the community.”
The new programs at Bay Street include a children’s theater camp, “Cabaret at the Bay” evenings and “Saturday Morning Picture Show” screenings of classic family films. The children’s theater camp will run in accordance with the school breaks during February and April. Mitchell said the camp was created to lend a helping hand to working parents.
As the economy continues to take a downturn, almost every local non-profit organization has noticed an increase in community demand for their services. ARF reported a 26 percent increase in pet adoption from 2007 to 2008, as nearly 731 dogs and cats were adopted last year.
“I attribute this in part to people finding comfort in animals. It feels good to rescue an animal from a shelter,” said Lange. ARF is noticing higher rates of pet abandonment and the non-profit is also housing more puppies than usually.
Darrow, founder of Fighting Chance, said that nearly half of the cancer patients on the East End contact the organization.
“Patients are now looking at the stress of a cancer diagnosis, coupled with the stress of surviving the recession,” said Darrow. “Most of these people are not highly affluent, and some of them are losing their jobs. Even in the best of times, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are stressful.”
Darrow added that Fighting Chance has established various programs to help these people. The organization offers a “Help-at-Home” neighborhood fund, which awards cash grants of up to $500 for existing patients. Darrow said these funds are often used to repair the patient’s car, since they often have to receive treatment once a day for a number of weeks. Fighting Chance also arranges for cancer patient transportation to treatment centers, with the help of Twin Forks Limo company.
These non-profit organizations remain an integral part of the community, but some non-profit staff wonder if they will be able to outlast the recession. Of ARF, Lange said “we have been around since 1974 and we have never felt anything like this.”
Above: Sag Harbor resident Carol Wesnofsky with Richu, a Peckinese she adopted last year at the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons.Â