Rising prices, shortages challenge nonprofit organizations

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Operation Holidays organizer Tammy Kish stocks shelves on Wednesday with items to be used by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 and the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 to provide holiday food and gifts to local families. The ongoing supply-chain issue and rising prices could make it harder for charities to get the items they need to distribute.

ALPENA — Inflation, product shortages and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may make it challenging for nonprofit organizations to raise money and purchase items needed to provide assistance to the needy this holiday season.

The impact from rising costs and product availability is already surfacing in Northeast Michigan and the eventual toll it may take on local charities is still unknown.

For 30 years, the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583, and the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583, have managed and executed the events of its Operation Holidays mission, which includes a pair of local charitable initiatives, Operation Feed A Family and Toys for Kids.

The veterans accept donations of food and items to be given as gifts to distribute to the less fortunate in the area during Christmastime.

It also accepts cash donations so food and presents can be purchased before being delivered to those who meet the criteria.

Organizer Tammy Kish said the vets have been helping families in Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle, and Alcona counties for three decades and the number of needy families has fluctuated over that time. She said last year was a challenge because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year, rising prices, material shortages, and the pandemic have presented more challenges, as the price of food, clothes, and toys climb.

Kish said product shortages are worsening because of supply chain disruptions and if they linger, there is a chance the vets will have to reduce how much food and gifts are distributed to families in need in Northeast Michigan.

She said last year there were more than 600 families for Operation Feed a Family and even more for Toys for Kids. Issues with obtaining items like turkeys, gravy, and cranberry sauce have been challenging and she suspects that will be the case when toys for children need to be purchased, along with higher costs.

“It is a struggle for sure. The stores might put out 18 cans of product, but we need 700. Some stores are putting a limit of two on certain items and that makes it even harder for us to get what we need,” Kish said. “Ratioing what we are able to distribute can’t be out of the question, but right now it is too early to tell if we will need to do that or not.”

Michigan Nonprofit Association Vice President Kelley Kuhn said nonprofit organizations still haven’t bounced back from the pandemic and struggle to raise money, so added costs now — or a continued decline of the amount of money people donate — could have significant impacts on what services they are able to offer. She said all charitable groups are likely considering the challenges and how they can address them.

“I think costs and the supply chain issues are on the top of people’s minds right now,” she said. “Many groups still haven’t been able to host their fundraising event or recapture the revenue that they had pre-pandemic, so there are challenges across the board.”

Joe Gentry, executive director of the United Way of Northeast Michigan, said there are indicators that there may be fewer families in the Alpena area who need assistance this holiday season.

He said the United Way receives names of families to include in the annual Christmas Wishlist event from school success workers, and the number of names on the list has shrunk. He said that is a good sign that not only fewer people need help, but some may have more disposable income than in the last few years.

“I don’t think there are as many people in financial distress as before,” he said. “I think things are getting better.”

Gentry said the question now is, will the United Way, residents and businesses be able to find the items they need for gifts on store shelves?

“I think from a donor standpoint we will be fine, but I wonder if the items we need will be available for us to go out and buy,” Gentry said.


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