WASHINGTON -- Charities typically raise about 40 percent of all the money they get for the entire year right in these few short weeks around the holidays.
But in a world where so many Americans are short of cash, it's causing shortages for the charities as well.
Sign of Troubled Times
In a sign of the tough times, a line of Californians stretching blocks-long waited to get free turkey and trimmings for the Thanksgiving holiday. Some desperate people even waited through the night.
"I told my sister it's going be like this cause a lot of people is out of work,' California resident Linda Armstrong said.
With similar scenes occurring across the U.S., it's easy to see why charities and ministries are feeling such a crush. The increased demand comes as donations to charities are on the decline.
As CEO of Operation Blessing, Bill Horan has his finger on the pulse of one of the nation's largest charities. The organization has recently been named one of the top charities in America by Forbes Magazine.
"The landscape's pretty rough out there," Horan said. "We, like all charities, are struggling against sort of a perfect storm where the need is greater than it's ever been in modern times, especially in America with this economic meltdown that we've experienced."
Los Angeles resident Ronald Potts lamented, "(There's) no work...there's no jobs; people are getting laid off; people losing their houses..."
A Drop in Giving
Many charities are seeing the need for food up roughly 70 percent over the last couple of years. But as these charities try to meet the need by dishing more out, there's often less coming in.
"A lot of our donors are having a rough time just making a living and keeping their own heads above waters," Horan said.
For instance, the Salvation Army is seeing a drop of about 14 percent in giving.
"It's really just a very difficult environment for people and it's really not going to get a whole lot better probably for another half year or so," said Gus Faucher, a senior economist at Moody's Economy.com
As North Carolina's governor made her way through the Raleigh Rescue Mission recently, she suggested that everyone should step up the giving whenever possible.
"All of us should put a chip back on the pile," Gov. Bev Perdue said. "We all ought to do more than we're doing, especially at this time."
All Charities Not Equal - Do Your Homework
Horan warned Americans to exercise caution about the charities they give to, suggesting they first investigate them online. He suggested checking out sites like, MinistryWatch.com.
"They track all the faith-based ministries," he said "I think maybe 450 of them they keep track of. And I'm happy to say that the last time I looked, Operation Blessing was ranked either the second or third most fiscally efficient charity in America."
In Forbes Magazine's list of top 200 charities, Operation Blessing received a 100 percent efficiency rating.
Horan said they achieve such efficiency by leveraging every donor dollar. For instance, the charity has to spend money for its Hunger Strike Force, a fleet of trucks and drivers, but they get corporations to fill those trucks with donated food and supplies.
"For every dollar that we spend on that Hunger Strike Force, we're delivering $12 or $14 worth of food and relief supplies to poor people all over America," he said.
The bottom line: Be careful where you give, but do please give. The need is bigger than ever.
*Originally published November 25, 2009