In the feature film "The Perfect Storm," a crew aboard a fishing boat is caught in an Atlantic hurricane. Every attempt to escape is futile. Right now, social service agencies throughout our region are facing the ominous threat of a perfect storm.
The combination of events creating this storm include a deflated stock market that could shrink donor dollars at the very time that more people face financial crises and must turn to charitable agencies for help. Further intensifying the problem is the rising cost of providing services.
We all have been touched by stories of family, friends and neighbors who face severe economic challenges. Across Allegheny County, there are increasing incidents of single mothers facing eviction, newly unemployed parents losing their homes and frail older adults on fixed incomes trying to get by without their medications or running out of food at the end of the month. A snap shot of what Pittsburgh currently faces can be seen at Jewish Family and Children's Service, an agency of the United Jewish Federation that is on the front lines of local economic realities.
JF&CS, which provided critical social service support to 7,000 individuals last year, reports a 75 percent increase this year in requests for supplemental food at its Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, one of a network of pantries serving our region. Meanwhile, the agency's Career Development Center, which provides vocational training and support across the employment spectrum, has experienced a 33 percent increase in new clients. This is in addition to the heightened demand for counseling by families in distress.
The Pittsburgh region has always been recognized as one of the most generous in the country and we are coming to a time of year when we are all approached by a multitude of charitable organizations soliciting our support. In these very difficult economic times, we will be forced to make choices about how our philanthropy can make the greatest and most critical impact.
We must come together and support nonprofits with proven track records of leveraging their resources to provide high-quality services to those most in need. As the ancient sage Rabbi Hillel used to say: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"
As a community, when we take care of others, we are taking care of all of us. Only we can prevent today's perfect storm from creating untold damage in our area. And the time is now.
Jeffrey H. Finkelstein is the president and CEO of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh ( www.ujf.net ).