CRITICAL SITUATION: Fuel Costs Killing Small Charities

Welcome to the Real World.

As the vast majority of Americans continue to sit back pretending nothing to terribly wrong is going on with the country, the lower echelons of society are feeling the first huge waves of the coming economic storm.  There are hundreds of thousands of upper middle class Americans who honestly can’t say it makes a bit of difference what gasoline is selling for since they never look at the bill; they have enough money to not be bothered.

On the other end of the spectrum are hundreds of thousands of lower income people, many trying to survive working minimum wage jobs, who are daily having to make choices between food and gas or medicine or electricity.  With more and more of their income being devoured by ever escalating prices for food staples and gasoline; there is no disposable income left for any emergency. 

In many of the bigger cities as well as along the Gulf coast, many food pantries and shelters have already closed and what few are left cannot find supplies.  As more and more of the last elements of the social safety net are withdrawn it leads to desperate people doing more and more desperate things.  Crime is dramatically rising in areas which only a few months ago had little or no crime.  Petty thefts as well as armed robberies are increasing at an alarming rate.

If the shelters, community outreach programs, food pantries and other services designed to help people get through the tough times until they can stand on their feet again collapse; who is left to cover the needs?  Fewer and fewer churches play an active role in helping the poor.  Fewer and fewer charities have the resources to offer more than a referral service to other agencies.  State and local governments are strapped for resources and do not have the means to step in and help.

If within a few days a mid-sized community has several bank robberies, numerous dollar stores held up and even the school cafeteria broken into to find food; is this not a pretty clear indication something is wrong?  The numbers of hurting people are climbing each day.  The numbers of homeless are increasing daily.  The numbers of frustrated people who are at their wits end and ready to snap is dramatically increasing every day.

Fuel Costs Make Transporting Food Difficult

One of the most frustrating situations to have arisen is that there is still food in the warehouses of major charities who send tons of food every year overseas and to outreach centers in this country.  The problem at the moment is finding the money to pay the sky high fuel costs to transport food from the warehouse to the destination it is needed.  With diesel prices well over $4.00 per gallon, even the truckers who want to help cannot afford to run an empty semi to a warehouse, pick up a load of food, take it to the outreach center needing it and then run an empty truck back home—all for free.

There used to be many truckers willing to pick up a load if it were on their way and their truck was empty.  It is even getting difficult to find those able to do this anymore.  Independent truckers are just barely making enough to stay in business running full loads all the time.  As much as they want to help, the cost of diesel is making it extremely difficult to provide “free hauls”.

A case in point is Tri Coastal Community Outreach in Grand Bay, Alabama.  They have a full semi of food available to them if they can pick it up in Nashville on April 24th.  It is a one time and one day shot.  All attempts to find anyone to help have failed.  The best offer from a trucking company was close to $1,500 to transport the load less than 500 miles from Nashville to Mobile.  Where on earth does a small community outreach center find $1,500? 

For lack of any better way to do it.  Members of the group will drive to Nashville, rent two 26 foot trucks and one car tow bar, load the two trucks, and then drive them (with one towing the car) back to Alabama.  The estimated cost for all this will be $700-800.  But, being good stewards, this is the only way to get the food.  Or is it?

The Need for Fuel Sponsors

There is an urgent need for sponsors to step up and help with fuel costs to transport food and other supplies to destinations in need.  I see no reason why groups of professionals could not pool their charitable gifts together and make them available to groups such as Tri Coastal to provide for proper  transportation of goods instead of the kind of arrangement they must do this week.   Even doing it as they are, the cost is still staggering.  Transportation costs are quickly becoming a huge issue for not only non-profits but many charities doing construction and other services.

If you are a professional and desire to really see your charitable giving do the most good, consider making a special fund that is to be used strictly for the transportation costs of getting resources from supply houses to outreach centers.  Any group doing full scale community outreach is in desperate need of food and other supplies that many times are located all over the United States.  Any of these groups who are 501 (c) 3 charities should be able to develop a program where donations can be received specifically designated for transportation costs.

The Need for Consistent Resources

The directors of most community outreach/homeless shelters/food pantries and other service charities spend most of their time trying to locate money or resources.  Instead of being able to oversee case work or develop plans and programs to better serve the people in need; too much of their time has to be spent tracking down the means to meet the needs.  They all need consistent and reliable sources for food, clothing, furniture, building supplies and other vital resources. 

Church groups, service organizations, clubs and societies as well as schools and businesses can all do drives on a regular basis for some of these groups.  Many of these groups have programs in place for organizations or individuals to systematically give on a regular and set basis.  To stick around for the long haul, these groups need to know where supplies are coming from next.

The Need Will Only Get Worse

As the economic situation is this country continues to go downhill, the needs among the poor will only skyrocket, and this is due to a dramatic increase in numbers of people in need in addition to greater and greater need.  The first round of failures among care givers is staggering and quite discouraging.  Those left are handling far more case loads than they were expecting.  Budgets and resources are being stretched to the absolute limit. 

Before the situation gets much worse, please consider providing assistance where you can to those still involved with trying to help those in the lowest socio-economic levels.  If there is anyone who deserves a helping hand and someone to aid them in their times of intense personal and financial turmoil it is those who through no fault of their own have “fallen through the cracks” of our social welfare system.


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